The positions now in limbo are National Counterterrorism Center director and State Department undersecretary for arms control and international security.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced on Thursday he is holding up two nominations while he waits for explanations from the president on his two recent, high-profile firings of inspectors general.
Grassley, a long-time advocate for whistleblowers and oversight, teased his holdups in a tweet, then released nomination names and positions shortly after. He won’t consider Christopher Miller’s nomination to be National Counterterrorism Center director or Marshall Billingslea’s nomination to be State Department undersecretary for arms control and international security, until the Trump administration explains why Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and State Department IG Steve Linick were fired. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to Grassley regarding the IG terminations on May 26, but Grassley said it was not sufficient.
“Though the Constitution gives the president the authority to manage executive branch personnel, Congress has made it clear that should the president find reason to fire an inspector general, there ought to be a good reason for it,” Grassley said in statements submitted to the congressional record about both IGs. “The White House’s response failed to address this requirement, which Congress clearly stated in statute and accompanying reports...That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”
Following Atkinson’s removal on April 3, Grassley led a bipartisan call for the president to provide an explanation as required by the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act. President Trump defended his firing saying Atkinson “did a terrible job” in his handling of the “fake” whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment hearings against Trump.
Atkinson said in a statement that while he understands the president has the authority to fire him, he was “disappointed and saddened” as he was never “political or partisan '' in his work.
Grassley sent a similar letter to the president following his announcement on May 15 he would fire Linick effective in 30 days. Following a closed door interview with Linick on Tuesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee said Linick confirmed there were ongoing investigations into Secretary of State Mike Pomepo at the time of the president’s announcement.
On May 4, the Senate received the nominations for the positions on which Grassley put a hold and referred them to their relevant committees. Confirmation hearings have yet to be scheduled. As the Congressional Research Service noted, holds “are enforced only through the agenda decisions of party leaders.”
The last permanent National Counterterrorism Center director was Joseph Maguire. He left the role in August 2019 when the president tapped him to be acting Director of National Intelligence. Shortly thereafter, Maguire was caught up in the Ukraine scandal that led to the president's impeachment.
Andrea Lee Thompson was the last permanent State Department undersecretary for arms control and international security, and left in October 2019. This followed the news over the summer that she did not disclose her connections with the former boyfriend of Maria Butina (a Russian spy jailed for 15 months after pleading guilty to trying to infiltrate conversavtive political groups in the United States on behalf of Russian interests), CNN reported.
Grassley––who was first elected to the Senate in 1981––is the founding member and chair of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus and a staunch supporter of the inspector general community. This is “not the [first] time I’ve raised the alarm when [administrations] flout IG protection law,” he tweeted. President Obama also did so and “got [the] same earful from me.”