Donald Trump has ousted the Defense Department’s acting inspector general who had been tapped to oversee how $2 trillion in coronavirus relief funds will be spent, alarming critics who see the move as an attempt to undermine federal oversight of the emergency stimulus.
Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine will no longer head the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee – the panel assembled to prevent and root out waste, fraud and abuse from the stimulus package. A panel of inspectors general had named Fine to lead the oversight group, but Trump abruptly replaced him April 6 and stuck Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell in the Acting IG position at the Pentagon, effectively ousting Fine.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Trump’s upending of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee “is really a problem.” She said the move shows that the president is trying to implement his own oversight of the relief spending by “sending in some of his loyalists.”
On Monday, Trump also nominated Jason Abend for the Pentagon’s Inspector General. Last week, Trump nominated White House lawyer Brian D. Miller to serve as the inspector general overseeing the Treasury Department’s implementation of the coronavirus funds.
The three Trump nominees will all become part of the nine-member group overseeing funds released by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) expressed anger over Fine’s removal, and called it “a direct insult to the American taxpayers – of all political stripes – who want to make sure their tax dollars are not squandered on wasteful boondoggles, incompetence, or political favors.”
“President Trump has been engaged in an assault against independent Inspectors General since last Friday in order to undermine oversight of his chaotic and deficient response to the coronavirus crisis,” Rep. Maloney said.
Many political analysts and others see Trump’s moves as a blatant attack on the government’s independent and impartial oversight.
Other inspector generals under attack
On April 3, Trump also ousted the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, for doing his job. Mr. Atkinson handled the whistleblower report that triggered the president’s impeachment, as he was obligated to do under the oath of his office.
“It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General, and from my commitment to continue to do so,” Atkinson stated.
Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, whose office issued an objective report detailing the widespread testing delays and supply shortages that are crippling the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, has also been publicly attacked by Trump.
House forms its own oversight committee
Last week, Speaker Pelosi announced the formation of a special House committee charged with overseeing how the $2 trillion stimulus is spent, tapping Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) to lead the bipartisan group.
Pelosi said the select committee will be authorized “to examine all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus and ensure the taxpayer’s dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent.”
“The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse,” she told reporters on a press call. “It will protect against price-gauging, profiteering and political favoritism. The fact is, we do need transparency and accountability.”
Rep. Clyburn called Trump’s appointment of Brian Miller to serve as Inspector General for the Treasury Department’s oversight of the CARES Act “troubling.”
“The President’s decision to name one of his own staff lawyers to serve as the independent Inspector General overseeing the disbursement of hundreds of billions of federal dollars in coronavirus crisis emergency aid smacks of the proverbial ‘fox guarding the henhouse,’” Rep. Clyburn said in an April 3 statement.
The same committee also plans to eventually investigate the Trump administration’s alleged lack of preparedness and sloppy handling of the pandemic. Speaker Pelosi said that for now, the committee will stay focused on the immediate crisis.