White House hits out at 'Deep State' after Trump fires watchdog

Democrats say the removal of Inspector General Steve Linick, pictured in 2016, may be illegal (AFP Photo/ALEX WONG)

Washington (AFP) - The White House hit back Sunday at fierce criticism over the firing of the State Department's top watchdog, suggesting he was a disloyal member of a "Deep State" conspiracy out to get President Donald Trump.

Trump told the House of Representatives late Friday he planned to dismiss Steve Linick, the fourth inspector general to be ousted by the president in the last six weeks.

Asked about the move by ABC, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro slammed "a bureaucracy out there" of people who "think they got elected president and not Donald J. Trump."

"And we've had tremendous problems with -- some people call it the 'Deep State,' I think that's apt. So I don't mourn the loss of people when they leave this bureaucracy," Navarro said.

Trump and his allies regularly rail against a "Deep State" of shadowy forces in an otherwise apolitical civil service they see as committed to undermining the president. There is no evidence that such a movement exists.

Navarro said officials leaving the administration could always be replaced by someone more "loyal."

"Not to the president necessarily, but to the Trump agenda. That's what's important," Navarro added.

Linick was Trump's fourth dismissal of an official tasked with monitoring government misconduct and abuse since April, and drew criticism even from members of his own party.

Casualties of the purge include coronavirus response watchdog Glenn Fine and intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who was involved in the impeachment investigation.

Trump has also ousted health and human services watchdog Christi Grimm, who reported on dire shortages in US hospitals fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

Navarro's comments were immediately countered by top Democrats, who have launched a probe into the late night dismissal of an official they say was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"The president has the right to fire any federal employee," House speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, told CBS.

"But the fact is, if it looks like it is in retaliation for something that the IG, the inspector general, is doing, that could be unlawful."

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders told ABC Trump believed he was "above the law, he's above criticism."

"And he does not understand that, in the function of government, you have a Congress, you have inspector generals who say, by the way, Mr. President, what you're doing is wrong, and it may be illegal."

By law, the administration must give Congress 30 days' notice of its plans to terminate an inspector general, in theory giving lawmakers time to study the move -- and protest if warranted.

But previous such firings have gone through unimpeded, and those dismissed have been replaced by political allies of the Republican president.