President Donald Trump's Friday night dismissal of the State Department inspector general provoked objections from some Republican lawmakers who said the president did not present sufficient grounds for the move.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump said he was removing Inspector General Steve Linick from his position because he longer held his "fullest confidence."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement responding to Linick's firing that "Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal."
"Inspectors general are crucial in correcting government failures and promoting the accountability that the American people deserve," he said.
Grassley did not feel Linick had done enough to investigate the origins of the allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russian election interference efforts in 2016, but he said, "those shortcomings do not waive the President’s responsibility to provide details to Congress when removing an IG."
"A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress," Grassley said.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine also said Trump had failed to adequately explain the reasons for Linick's removal.
"I have long been a strong advocate for the Inspectors General. They are vital partners in Congress’s effort to identify inefficient or ineffective government programs and to root out fraud and other wrongdoing," Collins said in a tweet.
Collins pointed to her role in drafting the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act, which requires the president to submit a written explanation for an inspector general's removal 30 days before it takes effect.
"The President has not provided the kind of justification for the removal of IG Linick required by this law," Collins said.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a Trump critic and the only Republican senator to vote to convict the president on one of the articles of impeachment, went further in decrying the firing, which marked the fourth government watchdog Trump has removed in the last three months.
"The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power," Romney tweeted.
Romney's reaction echoed that of congressional Democrats, who immediately said they plan to investigate the reasons for Linick's ouster.
"President Trump’s unprecedented removal of Inspector General Linick is only his latest sacking of an inspector general, our government’s key independent watchdogs, from a federal agency. We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions," wrote Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Engel and Menedez cited reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who Linick was allegedly investigating for use of State Department staff to run personal errands for himself and his wife, had personally recommended the inspector general's removal.
A State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution confirmed to USA TODAY that Linick had been investigating Pompeo. The official said if Pompeo was involved in Linick's ouster, it was "definitely retaliatory."
Pelosi said in a statement on Friday that the firing was part of a "dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people."
On Sunday, Pelosi said on CBS's News "Face the Nation" that it was "typical of the White House" to announce "something that is very unsavory" so "late on a Friday night," when less of the public was likely to hear the news.
"The president has the right to fire any federal employee," Pelosi said. "But the fact is, if it looks like it's in retaliation for something that the inspector general is doing, that could be unlawful."
"They're supposed to show cause," she added. "Even Republicans in Congress are concerned."
But not all Republican lawmakers shared the concerns expressed by Grassley, Collins and Romney.
"I'm not crying big crocodile tears over this termination. Let's put it that way," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Johnson said he is "an advocate for inspector generals," but, "in the end, they serve at the pleasure of the president, and he's got the authority to hire and terminate."
Johnson said that both he and Grassley "have had had a real problem" with Linick's "responsiveness," in an apparent reference to the Russian investigation information cited by Grassley.
"I spoke with senior officials both in the White House and the State Department. I understand their reasoning. I don't know whether they're going to provide a more robust rationale for why they do it. But I understand it. And I don't disagree with it," Johnson said.
Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week" that Trump "clearly has the legal authority" to fire Linick and said the president had a "tremendous problem" with government officials opposed to Trump's agenda.
"Some people call it the deep state. I think that's apt," Navarro said.
"So, I don't mourn the loss of people when they leave this bureaucracy," he continued. "There's always going to be somebody better to replace them, somebody more loyal, not to president necessarily, but to the Trump agenda."
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen