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Transportation Dept's inspector general is latest to be removed

Since early April, four Trump administration inspectors general have been fired. And now there are questions about a fifth IG who was "abruptly" replaced.
Image: Elaine Chao
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and President Donald Trump speak as they participate in a roundtable discussion at the US Department of Transportation on June 9, 2017 in Washington.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

Since early April, four Trump administration inspectors general have been fired, most of them late at night on a Friday, when the White House hoped few would notice. The trend has sparked yet another scandal for the president and his team, as they chip away at yet another layer of government accountability.

But last week, a fifth inspector general, this time at the Department of Transportation was also removed in favor of a political appointee. As Roll Call reported, three high-ranking House Democrats are demanding answers.

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., and Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., demanded in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao that acting Inspector General Mitch Behm, who was stripped of his duties May 15, be reinstated immediately.

The White House's allies will likely note that Behm's ouster is at least a little different than the other four, and there's some truth to that. The Transportation IG, for example, was there in an acting capacity, and unlike the independent watchdogs who've been driven from the administration altogether, Behm will reportedly remain at his cabinet agency.

That said, there are some questions surrounding this development that deserve answers.

The first red flag, for example, is that Behm was "abruptly" removed on a Friday night. The second is that his successor, Howard "Skip" Elliott, the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, will keep his current job.

And finally, as Rachel noted on the show last night, Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the change in the IG's office could be connected to one of the ethics controversies surrounding Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Indeed, as regular readers know, the Republican cabinet secretary has faced accusations that she made special arrangements to benefit transportations projects in Kentucky -- where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is the senior senator. Politico reported last year that Chao even hired one of her husband's former campaign aides, who soon after took on a unique role in the cabinet agency: he oversaw projects that would benefit Chao's husband's home state ahead of his re-election campaign.

Chao and her agency have denied any wrongdoing. That's unlikely to satisfy congressional Democrats seeking answers.