[Congressional Record Volume 166, Number 113 (Thursday, June 18, 2020)]
[Pages S3097-S3098]


  Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I previously notified the Chamber of my 
objection to the nominations of Marshall Billingslea, of Virginia, to 
be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security 
and Christopher C. Miller, of Virginia, to be Director of the National 
Counterterrorism Center, Office of the Director of National 
Intelligence. On June 12, 2020, I received two letters: one from the 
Department of State, which contained a copy of recent correspondence 
between the administration to the Council of the Inspectors General on 
Integrity and Efficiency, CIGIE, requesting that CIGIE investigate 
specific allegations into the conduct of the State Department Inspector 
General, State IG, Steve Linick, and another separate letter from the 
White House Counsel concerning the removal of Intelligence Community 
Inspector General, IC IG, Michael Atkinson. Without making comment 
regarding the veracity of the allegations made against Mr. Linick, I 
believe that these letters fulfill the President's requirement to 
provide Congress reasons for the removal of the IC IG and the State IG, 
as required by the Inspector General Reform Act. It is for this reason 
that I withdraw my objection to both Mr. Billingslea and Mr. Miller.
  The letter from the White House Counsel regarding the removal of the 
IC IG repeats a previous letter from the White House which stated that 
the President had lost confidence in the IC IG. However, the White 
House Counsel enclosed with that letter a transcript of President Trump 
providing his reasons for removing Mr. Atkinson to the press and has 
informed me that those reasons represent the President's official 
explanation of Mr. Atkinson's removal to Congress. I believe that this 
transcript and its transmittal to Congress has fulfilled the statutory 
notice requirement of the Inspector General Reform Act. It is for this 
reason that I withdraw my objection to Mr. Miller.
  Here follow my comments to the President, including my actions and 
rationale: although the Constitution gives the President the authority 
to manage executive branch personnel, Congress has made it clear by law 
that should the President fire an inspector general, there ought to be 
a good reason for it. No such reason was provided when the President 
informed Congress of the removal of Mr. Atkinson on April 3, 2020. 
Thus, in a bipartisan letter on April 8, 2020, my colleagues and I 
reminded the President of his requirement under the statute to provide 
reasons for removing an IG. On May 15, 2020, the President notified 
Congress of his intent to remove Mr. Linick. This notification also 
lacked reasons for the removal spurring my solo letter on May 18, 2020, 
again reminding the President of his requirement to provide reasons.
  After a delay, and a personal call with the White House Counsel, I 
was promised a response to my letters that would fulfill the statutory 
notice requirement. On May 26, 2020, I received a response from the 
White House Counsel explaining the President's Constitutional removal 
authority, which I never questioned. However, the letter still 
contained no reason for the removals as required by law. This failure 
to comply with the statute prompted my objection to both Mr. Miller and 
Mr. Billingslea on June 4, 2020.
  On June 6, 2020, I asked the White House to provide written reasons 
for the removals. We discussed several issues. I took this opportunity 
to talk to the White House and I told them that I needed reasons for 
the firing of IGs to be submitted in writing.
  On June 12, 2020, I received the enclosed letter from the State 
Department which finally fulfills the executive branch's legal 
requirement to provide Congress reasons for an IG's removal with regard 
to Mr. Linick.
  Here is my view on the firing of Mr. Linick. The State Department's 
correspondence with CIGIE provided four reasons for Mr. Linick's 
removal, all involving the investigation of the leak of information to 
a news reporter pertaining to an IG report, which the reporter claims 
to be based on information garnered from ``two government sources 
involved in carrying out the investigation. The letter to CIGIE 
requests that they begin an investigation into Mr. Linick's alleged 
transgressions, including his: 1) ``failure to formally refer to CIGIE 
. . . the investigation of [the] leak''; 2) ``hand selection'' of the 
Department of Defense OIG to conduct the leak investigation; 3) ``non-
compliance with State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) 
email policies''; and 4) refusal to supply Department of State 
leadership with a copy or summary of the leak investigation report 
despite ``repeated requests'' from State Department leadership. These 
claims are as of yet unverified but the President has offered an 
additional briefing on the matter from State Department officials. I am 
in the process of scheduling

[[Page S3098]]

such a briefing and reviewing the additional relevant information.
  After reviewing the provided rationale, I have several concerns. 
Chief among them is that CIGIE does not traditionally conduct 
investigations into agency or OIG leaks. It reviews allegations against 
individuals but not IG offices and generally lacks the funds and 
resources to conduct work outside of their narrow scope. As a matter of 
course however, IGs do traditionally check each other's work, and CIGIE 
often suggests that allegations against IGs or their offices be 
referred to peer IGs. This is done when crucial IG independence must be 
maintained but the appearance of conflicts of interest may arise. It 
would also not be uncharacteristic for an IG to safeguard the office's 
statutorily required independence by potentially refusing to provide 
internal information to its parent agency. In short, although it would 
make little sense for CIGIE to conduct the leak investigation in the 
manner desired by the State Department, it would not be outside the 
bounds of precedent for one office of inspector general to conduct an 
investigation into another.
  Although I have not yet had the opportunity to verify the allegations 
regarding Mr. Linick, as I noted earlier, the President retains the 
constitutional authority to manage executive branch personnel. My 
objection to these nominees was designed to prompt compliance with the 
IG Reform Act, which the President has now done with regards to Mr. 
Linick. Therefore, I am withdrawing my objection to Mr. Billingslea.
  On June 12, 2020, I received the enclosed letter from the White House 
Counsel which finally fulfills the executive branch's legal requirement 
to provide Congress reasons for an IG's removal with regard to Mr. 
  As it pertains to Mr. Atkinson: Even though the President satisfied 
the requirements of the law, I do not agree that the provided reasons 
merited Mr. Atkinson's removal. In the provided transcript the 
President states, ``I thought [ Atkinson] did a terrible job. 
Absolutely terrible . . . But ask him, `Why didn't you go and see the 
[transcript of my phone call with the Ukrainian president]?' There was 
no rush. [Atkinson] said, `Oh we'd have to rush it.' '' I infer from 
this statement that the reason(s) that the President removed Mr. 
Atkinson was because of the speed with which he sought to bring the 
whistleblower information to Congress and/or his role generally in the 
impeachment process.
  With respect to this objection concerning Mr. Atkinson's supposed 
haste, it is necessary to review the IC IG's responsibility under the 
Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. The act provides 
the IC IG only 14 days to determine if an ``urgent concern'' ``appears 
credible'' and transmit that information to the Office of the Director 
of National Intelligence, ODNI. Notably, the law also does not require 
that a full investigation of a whistle blower's allegations be 
completed before the information is provided to Congress. Reading such 
a requirement into the law could result in critical and relevant 
information not reaching the ODNI or Congress in a timely manner, and 
could pose a chilling effect on whistleblowers' willingness to report 
urgent concerns and other issues of waste, fraud, and abuse in the 
intelligence community. That being said, I understand and appreciate 
the President's irritation with this IG's action being a factor in the 
House of Representative's impeachment.
  In those remarks, the President also said that ``they give this 
whistleblower a status that he doesn't deserve . . . . And, frankly, 
somebody ought to sue [him].'' To the extent that the President is 
referring to Mr. Atkinson's determination that the whistleblower 
allegation at issue amounted to an urgent concern under the law, there 
remains a significant difference of legal opinion on this matter. The 
President's position is supported by the Department of Justice Office 
of Legal Counsel, and Presidents routinely follow the legal 
determinations of that office. However, whether or not the 
whistleblower's allegation meets the legal definition of an ``urgent 
concern'' under the law, I obviously do not agree that person should be 
sued or otherwise retaliated against.
  My objection to these nominees was designed to prompt compliance with 
the IG Reform Act, which the President has now done with regards to Mr. 
Atkinson. Therefore, I am withdrawing my objection to Mr. Miller.
  Although some may want to believe that this is a new issue unique to 
this administration, it certainly is not. In July of 2009, then 
President Obama removed the Corporation for National and Community 
Service--CNCS--Inspector General, Gerald Walpin, from his post in a 
very similar manner and also did not provide reasons for removal. This 
began a bout of negotiations that resulted in not only the hold of 
several Presidential nominees but also a bicameral congressional 
investigation into the matter. In that case, I similarly pushed for 
compliance with the statute, held up a nominee to obtain information, 
and disagreed with the stated reasons for Mr. Walpin's removal. In the 
end, Mr. Walpin was never reinstated.
  Given the misinterpretation of the statute by successive 
administrations from both political parties, it is apparent that 
Congress must clarify the statute to ensure inspectors general are able 
to continue operating without undue interference. So I am introducing a 
bipartisan bill today to accomplish just that.
  (At the request of Mr. Durbin, the following statement was ordered to 
be printed in the Record.)
 Ms. ROSEN. Mr. Speaker, today I will not be present to vote on 
the confirmation of Justin Walker, vote 123, to be a judge on the 
District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Were I present, I would vote