The kerfuffle over State Department Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick and his firing by President Donald Trump at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recalls the scene in the film “Casablanca” where Vichy Police Chief Louis Renault exclaims at Rick’s, a casino he regularly patronizes, that “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here.” To which a croupier responds, “Your winnings, sir.”
Here is our modern Louis Renault: “This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said in a statement. “I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr. Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”
And you know what the probe is about? What is the backstory, a factor that always tells the tale in DC? What horrible corruption was Linick about to uncover about Pompeo? Well, supposedly that Pompeo asked aides to do personal errands like pick up his dry cleaning. Call the FBI, come to think of it— not them, it’s treason I tell you!
First off, even if it’s true I’m not sure I want my SecStates picking up their own dry cleaning. I’d rather not think of the possibility that they may have to interrupt a phone call on China or Russia to rush and pick up that shirt needed for weekend lunch with the Trumps. You know, the one Melania really likes.
Second, throughout the federal government, even in the military, IGs have a strange place in the matrix of power. They are in the agency that they work in, but not of it. They reside outside the team and are expected to monitor it for all types of malfeasance. Thus, just like a police Internal Affairs office, they are looked upon with suspicion if not outright loathing as a haven for malcontents, backstabbers, and informers.
On the other hand, they are appointed by someone either within the team or close to it. Thus they are close to the agency in some facet. That’s why when they go from being a team player one day to a gray status the next it is considered a curious thing. The thinking goes: Last week we were testifying in front of the Senate together. This week you’re leaving me twisting in the wind in front of a Democrat witch hunt. What gives?
What gives is a dual loyalty. IGs play for themselves and whoever offers them the best political deal. Which means what is considered kosher one day, like picking up dry cleaning, is a recipe for a House investigation the next because the IG was never really committed to the agency. In the power equations of DC they were only looking for the best deal.
This kind of behavior is not limited to IGs; it is an intrinsic part of the DC culture. People come and go but institutional and personal interests remain constant. The Democrats, as seen above, will make a small bit of hay over this. They will hold their probe while their own aides are picking up lunch and fetching their poodles from the dog groomers. Louis Renault would be proud.