Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Saturday that President Donald Trump’s firing of the State Department inspector general was “another Friday night massacre.”
“This is outrageous, an Inspector General is supposed to be independent. They are there for the purpose of making sure that agencies act appropriately, and once again we have another Friday night massacre of an Inspector General for no good cause,” Menedez told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
Trump late on Friday fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick – the latest in a series of dismissals of internal government watchdogs that have come in the wake of the President’s acquittal on two articles of impeachment earlier this year.
Earlier in the day, the New Jersey senator and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, announced that they have launched a probe into Trump’s firing of Linick.
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” Engel and Menendez wrote in a letter to the White House.
Menendez told Blitzer Saturday night he is “looking at legislation to strengthen” the watchdog government role and halt future firings.
“If, at the end of the day, we can have someone fired without cause without impunity, then we have totally eliminated a check and balance on this or any future administration. That’s not acceptable, it’s the reason Congress created inspector generals in the first place. To make sure that the department, in this case the State Department, is being honest and truthful and pursuing the cause of the American people,” he said.
Menendez said that Trump’s explanation for the firing, which Trump said was based on a lack of confidence in Linick, was “wholly unacceptable.”
“The President doesn’t want any investigations, he wants no transparency. And at the same time, he creates a diversion from the lack of his readiness of dealing with this pandemic,” he told Blitzer.
Republicans have mostly been quiet about Linick’s firing. But Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the only GOP senator who voted to convict Trump of abuse of power, strongly condemned the recent firings Saturday, calling them “a threat to accountable democracy.”
Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a longtime proponent of inspectors general, expressed some concern about Trump’s rationale for firing Linick.
“As I’ve said before, Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal. A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress,” Grassley said in a statement.
“The President has not provided the kind of justification for the removal of IG Linick required by this law,” said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, referencing a law she co-authored in 2008, as part of a Saturday night Twitter thread.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Manu Raju contributed to this story.