Trump inspector general firings take aim at rule of law

Trump inspector general firings take aim at rule of law

Noah Feldman writes:

In the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump is taking ever bolder steps to gut the government structures designed to ensure the rule of law in the United States.

In the last week alone, he’s fired two prominent inspectors general: the intelligence community inspector general who received the whistleblower complaint that sparked Trump’s impeachment; and the Defense Department inspector general who had just been named by a group of other inspectors general to oversee the coronavirus bailout effort.

Technically, firing IGs is within the president’s constitutional ambit. They’re executive officials appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Yet these firings fundamentally undercut the constitutional idea that the president and his appointees are governed by the law, not above it.

The purpose of the 70-odd federal inspectors general is to provide rigorous scrutiny and oversight for federal agencies. That’s why the IGs are typically embedded in the agencies they supervise.

It’s also why more than two dozen of the most important IGs, like those for defense and the intelligence community, aren’t hired and fired by the heads of the departments or agencies they oversee. Direct presidential appointment is supposed to make them more independent of the agency hierarchy than they otherwise would be.

Put differently, the direct presidential appointment of some IGs is designed precisely to give them the independence they need to do their jobs.

Trump’s politically motivated firing of these IGs neatly turns that independence on its head. Instead of being free to act according to the law and to follow evidence of wrongdoing wherever it leads, the IGs are now being given an incentive to show loyalty to the president. And showing such loyalty would almost certainly involve suppressing, rather than pursuing, evidence of wrongdoing within the presidential administration. [Continue reading…]

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