President Donald Trump's surprise firing of the State Department's internal watchdog could be "unlawful" if it was done in retaliation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.
Trump on Friday night ordered the removal of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, following through on a recommendation from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to the White House.
Linick had opened an investigation into Pompeo, according to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. A Democrat aide told NBC news that Linick "was looking into the Secretary's misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks for himself and Mrs. Pompeo."
NBC, citing two congressional officials, reported later Sunday that Linick was probing whether Pompeo made a staffer run a variety of his personal errands, such as walking his dog, picking up his dry cleaning.
Trump said in a letter to Pelosi that he had lost confidence in Linick, without providing further explanation.
"The president has the right to fire any federal employee, but the fact is if it looks like it's in retaliation for something that the IG, the inspector general is doing, that could be unlawful," Pelosi, D-Calif., said on CBS' "Face The Nation."
"They're supposed to show cause," Pelosi said of the "unsavory" late-night firing, adding that "even Republicans in Congress are concerned and have spoken out."
"Congress requires written reasons justifying an IG's removal," said GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, the co-founder and chairman of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, in a statement Saturday. "A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted Saturday that firing inspectors general without good reason poses "a threat to accountable democracy."
Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded that the Trump administration hand over all records related to Linick's firing by next Friday.
In a statement, Engel and Menendez said that they understood Pompeo recommended Linick be fired "because the Inspector General had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself."
"Such an action, transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability, would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions and may be an illegal act of retaliation," Engel and Menendez wrote. "This concern is amplified by the fact that it came only hours after the House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which contains additional legal protections for inspectors general."
Last month, Trump ordered the removal of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community who had flagged the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that became a major catalyst for Trump's eventual impeachment in the House. Trump was acquitted in the Senate.
In her own statement Friday, Pelosi said Trump's "late-night, weekend firing of the State Department Inspector General has accelerated his dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people."