President Donald Trump on Friday removed a watchdog critical of personnel moves in the State Department.
Trump informed Congress of the move in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, in which he gave no specific reason for firing State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.
Trump wrote he “no longer” had full confidence in the State Department's inspector general.
“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General," the letter said.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, said in a statement Friday that he learned Linick "had opened an investigation into Secretary [Mike] Pompeo."
A Democrat aide told NBC news the inspector general "was looking into the Secretary's misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo."
Pompeo is married to Susan Pompeo, who's been known to travel with the Secretary of State and was listed as "Special Assistant to the Secretary of State" at a security conference in Germany earlier this year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the removal of Linick as a wee-hours firing by Trump that appears to be retaliation for Linick's critical eye within the department.
"The President’s late-night, weekend firing of the State Department Inspector General has accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people," Pelosi said in a statement.
Linick, an Obama administration appointee, will be replaced by Stephen Akard, a former career foreign service officer with close ties to Vice President Mike Pence, according to The Associated Press.
Last year a report by Linick's office found there was evidence to support allegations that the termination of an employee in the Secretary of State's office was made "after significant discussion concerning the employee’s perceived political views" as well as the worker's "perceived national origin."
"Inspector General Linick was punished for honorably performing his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath," Pelosi said.
She said the role was important in performing audits, investigations and inspections.
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Engel called the firing "outrageous."
“This firing is the outrageous act of a President trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the Secretary of State, from accountability," he said. "I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr. Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation."
Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, announced Saturday that they would launch a probe into the removal, requesting the Trump administration turn over records and information related to the firing by May 22.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement that there was "still an opportunity for my colleagues to speak up."
“The only good news here is that there is still an opportunity for my colleagues to speak up and right this wrong. While President Trump notified Congress of his intent to fire Mr. Linick last night, he has not fired him yet," Carper said. "The law requires that the President give Congress 30-days advance notice so that a co-equal branch of government request more information and prevent an undue firing."
Trump has fired other inspectors general, including intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson and Defense Department acting inspector general Glenn Fine.
Engle said he'd be "looking into this matter in greater detail" in the days to come.