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Last Week In Politics: Trump Ousts State Department IG


Another late night weekend purge by the Trump administration in the midst of a pandemic that has seen almost 90,000 Americans dead so far since March. President Trump removed Inspector General Steven A. Linick, who has served at the State Department since 2013. This follows the removal in April of the intelligence community inspector general, and there have been others. Democrats have now launched an investigation, with even Republican Susan Collins of Maine saying the president has not provided the kind of justification required by law. Joining us to talk about this and the rest of the week in politics is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this seems to be a pattern for this president to move against government watchdogs.

LIASSON: Yes. This is not the first time he's removed a deputy - an inspector general or a deputy inspector general. The ouster of Linick, according to reports, was related to an investigation into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had misused a political appointee at the State Department to run errands for him and his wife. The White House says that Pompeo recommended this move.

House Democrats say they're going to start an investigation because there's an actual law that says the president can't just fire an inspector general. He has to give Congress 30 days' notice of a firing. And Congress, if it desires, could push back and step in to try to stop the firing. That's probably unlikely, but it is part of a pattern. The president does not like independent oversight of the executive branch. And he's moved to undermine it over and over again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. This past week was one in which the president seemed to lash out at his perceived enemies even more than usual. And as is his style, he branded the latest conspiracy, calling it Obamagate. What exactly is Obamagate? I hesitate to ask.

LIASSON: Well, Obamagate has a brand name. Yeah. Obamagate has a brand name, but it doesn't seem to have any substance. This is a conspiracy theory in which it seems like the president says that Barack Obama is responsible for masterminding the Russia investigation in order to hurt him. He was asked by Washington Post reporter Phil Rucker about what exactly is Obamagate last...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is going on, Mara?

LIASSON: We don't know. He doesn't know (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. That's not exactly an explanation. And all this is, as I mentioned, happening in the midst of this pandemic. The economy is cratering. People are dying. And in an address broadcast last night, former President Barack Obama pointedly criticized the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus, saying, quote, "this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing." Why is the president spending his time with conspiracy theories, and what do you make of the Obama address?

LIASSON: Well, first to Obama. The president - the former president is slowly but surely coming out of his isolation. He followed the tradition of past presidents to not comment on the current occupant of the White House, but he has been speaking out more and more, indirectly criticizing the - President Trump. I think that will continue.

As far as President Trump, what he is trying to do is rewrite the narrative of the Russia investigation. We know that the intelligence community, the Mueller investigation, Senate committees have all concluded without contradiction that Russia interfered in 2016 to help President Trump. Trump welcomed the help and then tried to cover it up. The new narrative that Trump is pushing is that somehow, President Obama created this investigation in order to hurt him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thanks so much.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.