The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Question for Andy

Former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick departs after briefing House and Senate Intelligence committees at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., October 2, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Andy McCarthy writes:

Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah), the Trump nemesis and (voila!) current media darling, leads the pack railing about how Trump’s serial dismissal of IGs “chills the independence essential to their purpose.” This is the same constitutional illiteracy we heard throughout the Trump-Russia farce — Trump was supposedly compromising the independence of the FBI, notwithstanding that counterintelligence investigations, such as the Russia probe, are done for the president (in contrast to criminal investigations, which are done to uphold the rule of law).

Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), a Trump ally but a stalwart defender of IGs, has slammed the president’s rationale that Linick had to go because Trump had lost confidence in him. “Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG’s removal,” he said over the weekend. “A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress.” Well, maybe. But it is entirely sufficient detail to satisfy the Constitution. Article II makes the president the sole custodian of executive power. He does not need any reason to remove an executive-branch political appointee, let alone a reason satisfactory to Chuck Grassley, Mitt Romney, and congressional Democrats.

Of course, if they don’t like it, if they think the president is abusing his powers, lawmakers have a variety of weapons at their disposal to deal with that problem — everything from blocking the president’s agenda and slow-walking his nominees to impeaching him.

I am inclined to agree with Andy that inspectors-general are problematic for the reasons he identifies elsewhere in his article. But he hasn’t — yet! — convinced me about Grassley, Romney, and congressional Democrats.

Let’s assume (as I do in fact assume) that the president has the constitutional power to sack any IG for any reason. His doing so for particular reasons or in particular ways could nonetheless make it harder for IGs to have the degree of practical independence needed to do their jobs. As Andy himself notes in the article, the institution of the IG is here to stay and should be made to work better. Maybe Romney agrees?

If members of Congress consider a presidential decision to fire an IG to be an abuse, as Andy notes, there are many things they can legitimately do. Isn’t one of those things criticizing the president and saying they’re not satisfied by his explanation for his decision? Even if the legal requirement Grassley mentioned is properly considered constitutionally invalid, the demand he is making seems reasonable as a political matter.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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