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Former U.S. Diplomat Reacts To Removal Of State Department IG


Democrats are opening an investigation into the firing of the State Department Inspector General Steve A. Linick. Linick was reportedly launching an investigation into Secretary of State Pompeo when he was dismissed. Bill Richardson now joins us. He is the former governor of New Mexico and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Welcome.

BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you, Lulu. Nice to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Great to have you. In a letter sent this weekend to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump said he had lost the fullest confidence in Steve Linick. Linick is the fourth inspector general to be fired by Trump. And Pelosi says this is a dangerous pattern of retaliation. But IGs are part of the executive branch, which Trump is in charge of. So is this just the system as it's designed?

RICHARDSON: No, this is unprecedented. I've been in two cabinet positions - Energy and, as you mentioned, United Nations. And inspector generals are there - part of the executive branch, but their charter is to find waste, fraud, abuse, inappropriate behavior. And it seems what's happening in the Trump administration is political retaliation against career officials that are not saying what the administration wants. For instance, Linick in the past has simply said that there was political retaliation by political appointees in the State Department against career officials. This is totally inappropriate action. It's a symbol of the balance of democracy within the executive branch, and it's being violated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The firing process is, though, 30 days long. And that's so Congress can act if it feels the decision was wrong. What would you tell lawmakers, as a former ambassador and special envoy, between now and that 30-day limit to do?

RICHARDSON: Well, they should investigate. They should get all the data, the papers, the filings, the emails in this case. But it's possible the State Department won't turn them over. They have not been responsive in past inquiries turning over documentation to Congress. So this has become a charade. Human Services deputy inspector general says there are shortages of kits for the virus and testing problems, and they're - initially, they are almost eliminated. The intelligence chief inspector general - you know, when I was in the cabinet, I called in my inspector general, and I said, look. You've pointed out some problems. Let's work together. But you have to respect their independence. They don't work for you. They work for the public, for the Congress, for openness. And this is being violated massively in this administration, especially in the last several weeks. Four have been dismissed. Who's going to be next?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the president has been impeached. Can another investigation really have the impact the Democrats want? Can the actions you're suggesting really have the impact the Democrats want? Isn't this an example of the Democrats having lost their ability of oversight?

RICHARDSON: Well, one of the problems is that the Republican Senate is going to back up the president almost intensely. And the House should do its duty. It's been trying to do its duty. I saw the statements by the House leaders of foreign affairs. And there's also Republicans - I heard Senator Romney make a statement saying this is unprecedented and potentially wrong and unlawful. So there has to be significant oversight. Now, can you bring that inspector general back to his job? I doubt it. But what seems to have happened is a loyalist of the Trump administration is going to take over a State Department inspector general. That's totally inappropriate. Inspector generals are there to be independent watchdogs - junkyard dogs. They're not on your side, Mr. Cabinet Secretary. I found that out. I had a good inspector general who was pointing out problems, but we worked together to try to resolve them. But you respect the independence of that position - particularly a president should do that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, does this affect, in your view, U.S. foreign policy, especially in this administration where Donald Trump is really a one-man-band on the global stage?

RICHARDSON: Well, it does because the State Department has career officials with a lot of expertise. And it seems that, in this administration, they have been sidelined. They've been pushed aside. This happened under Secretary of State Tillerson. Now it seems the same under Secretary Pompeo. I don't know anything about this allegation about using political appointees for personal reasons. I don't know anything about that. I do know that this inspector general was trying to protect career officers. Don't push him out because they don't share your political views - and that's what seems to have happened.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bill Richardson is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Thank you very much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.