The White House today strongly denied an inspector general says there is evidence of retaliation against employees. A House Democrat said firing seven career and two political inspectors general without explanation in recent months is evidence of political interference.
Following the release of the previously classified report on the firing of multiple inspectors general by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) called for a hearing on the ethics complaints against White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
On Tuesday, Cummings called for a congressional hearing over the “attempt to make political appointees the primary choice for inspectors general at the Department of Justice, despite clear recommendation to Congress that the office should be ‘fully independent.’” Cummings asked the Justice Department and other White House agencies to provide sworn statements on the matter.
Today, Cummings sent letters to all five agencies that responded to his requests for information — the White House, Department of Justice, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Government Ethics, and Office of the Special Counsel — after White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters the accusations are “pretty much bogus.”
Sessions told Congress last month that he initiated the firings in order to “bring greater balance” to the Office of the Inspector General and that Trump “wasn’t about to change the policies that I think are working quite well.”
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Tuesday: “As with all the Inspector General appointees, there were any number of independent parties in the White House that both gave opinions but also made input on who that inspector general would be. And so it is, at the end of the day, just part of the vetting process.”
Mulvaney added that in each case, the people they brought on were “not very good.”
Mulvaney said that White House lawyers weighed the opinions of several parties on whether a Trump ally should serve as the watchdog over the Justice Department, and that “none of them gave the requisite legal opinions that ‘You can’t, Trump is not an honorable person, you can’t even say he is’ and that would justify an investigation” of his behavior.
The department is fighting in court to prevent the committee from using the whistleblower protections afforded to its employees. The agency did not respond to a request for comment on the White House’s claims.
Government watchdog and law professor Norman Eisen praised the Democrats for fighting back. “Nothing the White House is doing is ever totally consensual,” he said, “so they are expected to fight.”
Eisen and former deputy ethics czar Richard Painter last year filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, the Justice Department’s independent ethics watchdog, about Sessions’ actions.
“The allegations outlined in this GAO report are stunning,” Painter said in a statement. “The administration has lost control of the White House’s ‘red team,’ whose only purpose is to scrutinize and critique the team of partisan attorneys it has appointed to White House ethics policy, and with it the management of the executive branch.”
Disclosure: The author is married to an attorney who is involved in a lawsuit regarding the ethics of the White House ethics office.