House Oversight Investigating Trump Ouster of US DOT Inspector General

Trump’s fifth watchdog firing in six weeks was probing Sec. Chao's possible conflicts of interest, after suggestions that her agency favored Kentucky, represented by her husband, Senator Mitch McConnell

U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters
U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters
Michael Graves Architecture & Design

The White House maneuver late Friday announcing department of State Inspector General Steve Linick’s pending ejection from his job is not the only recent Trump Administration inspector general move drawing fire. reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio and two other senior House Democrats on Tuesday demanded the Trump administration reinstate Mitchell Behm, who had been the acting Department of Transportation inspector general until he was ousted from the position over the weekend and replaced with the head of another agency.

Behm was replaced Saturday by Skip Elliott, who will now be inspector general of activities of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which he continues to administrate, in addition to the remaining agencies of the federal DOT.

In two letters, one addressed to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and one to Elliott, the chairs of the House Oversight and Transportation committees protested Behm's removal, saying it's the "latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General.”

The letter alleges that Behm’s removal could be “an effort to undermine” an investigation into Chao's possible conflicts of interest, following reports that her agency may have given preferential treatment to Kentucky, represented in the Senate by her husband Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector General’s investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our Committees,” they wrote.

In a span of six pandemic-dominated weeks, Trump has removed five officials from posts leading their respective agencies' inspector general offices. details these watchdog oustings:

  • Michael Atkinson, Intelligence Community – Confirmed by the Senate in May 2018, Atkinson determined credible the complaint filed by an anonymous whistleblower that raised concerns about Trump's dealings with Ukraine and ultimately led to House of Representatives’ impeachment of the president.
  • Mitch Behm, Transportation Department – Having worked with the Department of Transportation since 2003, Behm has been acting inspector general since February 1. Behm is listed as a member of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which is tasked with overseeing implementation of the $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief packages passed by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Glenn Fine, Defense Department – Fine became the Defense Department's acting inspector general in January 2016. When Trump returned him to the principal deputy inspector general post he’s held since 2015, Fine was also stripped of his role as leader of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
  • Christi Grimm, Health and Human Services – Grimm has been acting inspector general of the department since January 2020. Trump announced a nominee for a permanent Health and Human Services inspector general after Grimm released a report detailing severe shortages of testing and PPE supplies and difficulties in maintaining adequate staffing in hospitals responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Steve Linick, State Department – Linick has been the State Department's inspector general since the September 2013. He was inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency from 2010 to 2013, and worked for the Justice Department for more than a decade before that. Eliot Engel, a New York congressman who chairs the House Foreign Affairs panel, said in a statement that Linick's office was investigating Secretary Pompeo and his "firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation."