“Don’t get mad. Get even.” The saying attributed to the father of one U.S. president has become the mantra of another. It is no way to serve the American people.
President John F. Kennedy popularized what he called “that wonderful law of the Boston Irish political jungle.” Payback is a familiar if less-than-noble attribute of the world of politics. When a president swears to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, he (and so far it always has been he) at least nominally promises to put the interests of the American people first.
Human nature being what it is, intentions aren’t always acts. Inspectors general were created within the executive branch of the federal government to make sure rules are being followed. Democracy needs inspectors general to blow the whistle when management goes awry.
President Trump, however, isn’t fond of their oversight role. When inspectors general fulfill their role, he reacts as though pointing out wrongdoing amounts to personal disloyalty to him. By dismissing whistleblowers as disgruntled employees or resistors within what he calls the Deep State, he can punish disloyalty. He can also bury any wrongdoing they might uncover.
The fourth inspector general Trump has removed this spring is the State Department’s Steve Linick. Reportedly, Linick was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s use of department personnel for private tasks, including dog walking and picking up takeout meals and dry cleaning, which is a violation of federal rules.
It is likely that Trump is using the investigation as an excuse for payback. Linick briefed congressional staffers during last year’s impeachment inquiry.
Linick is just the latest example of Trump’s getting even since the end of his impeachment trial in February.
Last month, intelligence watchdog Michael Atkinson, who told Congress about a whistleblower complaint describing the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian prime minister, was also fired late on a Friday night.
Trump also recently removed the acting inspector general responsible for making sure $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funds are being spent as Congress intended.
More than getting even with those whom he perceives as members of a disloyal Deep State, Trump apparently is eliminating all independent accountability. Inspectors general are supposed to be independent, nonpartisan public servants charged with stopping fraud and misuse of procedure in the executive branch. They are not supposed to be loyal to a particular president. They are supposed to be loyal to America and to ensure honest government.
President Trump can get mad at an inspector general. He has no right to get even.