Trump Removes Watchdog Expected to Oversee $2 Trillion Virus Relief Fund

April 7, 2020 by Dan McCue
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday summarily removed the inspector general who was tapped to chair a special oversight board of the $2.2 trillion economic package intended to help businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus.

Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general and a veteran watchdog, had been selected by peers last month for the position.

In a related move, Trump named a different federal official, Sean O’Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general, to be the acting Defense Department inspector general, effectively putting him in charge of the pandemic spending package as well.

In a statement, Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the office of the inspector general at the Pentagon, said Trump designated O’Donnell to simultaneously serve as the acting leader of the office on Monday in addition to his duties at the E.P.A.

“Fine is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee,” she said.

The move roiled Democrats in Congress who have been demanding rigorous oversight over the stimulus program and the huge sums of money it is set to pump into the American economy.

“President Trump must not treat the coronavirus crisis with the same corruption, cronyism, and cover-ups that have characterized his presidency,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer Tuesday afternoon.

“Doing so will only hamper the bipartisan effort to help combat coronavirus and get our economy back up and running faster,” he said.

“In light of the confusion, incompetence, and missteps that have plagued the administration’s coronavirus response to date, the latest news that President Trump is playing politics with the oversight of the $2 trillion that Congress appropriated to address this crisis is deeply alarming,” Hoyer continued, pointing out that this is exactly why Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for the formation of a bipartisan select committee on the coronavirus crisis.

“Congress must … ensure that taxpayer resources are being spent in the right way and that this administration is not misusing funds or hindering the effort to protect lives and keep working families afloat,” Hoyer said.

Pelosi herself said in a statement, “The sudden removal and replacement of Acting Inspector General Fine is part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the President against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people.

“Since Day One, the President has tried to marginalize and exercise ultimate control over independent Inspectors General,” she continued.  “Yet again, he is doubling down on his signing statement promise to disregard critical oversight provisions that hold the Administration accountable to the law.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said “The president now has engaged in a series of actions designed to neuter any kind of oversight of his actions and that of the administration during a time of national crisis, when trillions of dollars are being allocated to help the American people.”

The move also comes in the wake of Trump’s late-night firing on Friday of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who forwarded to Congress a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.

Trump has bristled at the oversight of the coronavirus law, suggesting last month that some of the mandates from Congress are unconstitutional, and that he has the power to decide what’s shared with Congress and what’s not.

Pelosi has chosen House Majority Whip James Clyburn to chair the new select committee, though its creation still needs to be voted on in the House.

Pelosi told reporters last week the panel would have subpoena power, meaning it could demand testimony and documents from the Trump administration.

That raised the prospect of a long hot summer of battles between the House and the administration over information detailing how the White House addressed the coronavirus outbreak.

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