Democrats: White House letter on watchdogs 'disrespectful'

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White House counsel Pat Cipollone listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday, March 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats say a White House letter declaring that President Donald Trump followed the law when he fired multiple inspectors general is inadequate and even disrespectful, escalating a bipartisan fight with Trump over his removal of internal watchdogs.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees inspectors general, called the White House's explanation “completely inadequate” and said it "fails to provide any legitimate reason for the removal of an inspector general.''

Now, more than ever, "the Senate has to stand up for the independence and integrity of these independent agency watchdogs,'' Peters said in a statement Wednesday, adding that he is working with senators from both parties to strengthen oversight and accountability throughout the federal government.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the White House letter “dismissive” and “a disrespectful slap in the face” to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican who has long worked to protect inspectors general.

Grassley, a self-appointed defender of inspectors general and congressional oversight, requested that the White House explain the basis for the firings in April and May of the inspectors general for the intelligence community and the State Department.

The response Tuesday from White House counsel Pat Cipollone does not provide those details, instead making the points that Trump has the authority to remove inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress and that he selected qualified officials as replacements.

“When the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer — as did President Reagan when he removed inspectors general upon taking office and as did President Obama when he was in office,” Cipollone wrote.

Grassley said late Tuesday that he was dissatisfied with the White House’ response. "Congress made clear that if the president is going to fire an inspector general, there ought to be a good reason for it,'' he said.