US Department of Homeland Security employees work in front of US threat level displays inside the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center as part of a guided media tour in Arlington, Va. June 26, 2014.
Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Team Trump took aim at a key layer of accountability

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General announced late yesterday that it’s moving forward with an investigation into how Donald Trump’s Muslim ban was launched and implemented. The Washington Post noted that the probe, launched in response to congressional appeals and whistleblower complaints, will focus on “whether employees engaged in misconduct or failed to comply with court orders.”

The story is a reminder about the importance of inspectors general – and why Trump World may not care for their work. The Post had a related report yesterday on aides to the new president taking aim at IG offices throughout the executive branch.
An email from the Trump transition team on the evening of Jan. 13 instructed all transition team leaders to “reach out tonight and inform” the inspectors general in their agencies “that they are being held over on a temporary basis.”

The email from Katie Giblin, a member of the presidential transition team, confirms a story The Post reported last week that inspectors general, who by bipartisan tradition have open-ended appointments regardless of party, had been told that they would be held over only on a temporary basis and that they should seek other employment.

The email shows that the effort to replace the inspectors was not limited to a handful of agencies, but that it was intended to take aim at inspectors general across government departments.
Note, this isn’t based on rumors, but rather, an actual email obtained by members of Congress.

And while this seems like the sort of thing the House Oversight Committee might look into if it happened in a Democratic administration, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who always seems eager to defend the Republican White House, is confident that Team Trump targeted IG offices by “mistake.”

The GOP congressman blamed the mess on a “junior person” on Trump’s transition team.

But was it? The Washington Post’s report added, “[T]he email from Giblin suggests involvement at a more senior level of the transition. The email urges transition team leaders to report back to her or a person whose name is blacked out in the document presented at the hearing today. But a person familiar with the email said that the other person is Justin Clark, a Republican lawyer from West Hartford, Conn., who was deputy national political director of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and who has been named deputy assistant to the president and the White House director of intergovernmental affairs.”

That doesn’t sound especially “junior.”

As for why Trump’s transition team might want to take aim at inspectors general, IG offices are responsible for independent reviews within the various federal agencies. In other words, these offices offer an important layer of accountability to prevent official wrongdoing.

And as recently as three weeks ago, aides to the new president told inspectors general they should prepare to clean out their desks. Fortunately, those plans were scrapped, but the fact that Team Trump pursued such an approach, even briefly, speaks to their attitudes about checks within the system on their ambitions.