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Trump Removes Watchdog Charged with $2T Coronavirus Oversight

The president has started axing and publicly criticizing federal watchdogs. Why?

POTUS at a press conference earlier this week (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump removed the acting watchdog charged with overseeing the $2 trillion in new coronavirus relief spending.

In the first draft of the coronavirus spending bill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was able to withhold information about who received loans for six months. Democrats charged that amounted to a “slush fund” for corporations, and they withheld approval from the bill until Mnuchin agreed that there would be “strict oversight” over the $500 billion Exchange Stabilization Fund making the loans.

The agreed coronavirus law included multiple layers of oversight, complete with a panel of inspectors general that can investigate any aspect of its implementation. Acting inspector general Glenn Fine was named to lead that panel just last week.

But the Trump administration announced Tuesday that Fine has been relieved from his position, and that he will return to his previous post as principal deputy inspector general of the Pentagon. EPA inspector general Sean O’Donnell will fill Fine’s position in addition to his other responsibilities.

The move comes as Trump has begun criticizing and axing federal watchdogs. On Friday, intelligence inspector general Michael Atkinson was fired. Atkinson handled the whistleblower report which ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment.

Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz rebuked Trump’s criticism of Atkinson, saying he had handled the whistleblower matter appropriately and defended the broader IG community.

“The Inspector General Community will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee,” he said in a statement.

For his part, Atkinson accused Trump of removing him for following the whistleblower laws.

On Tuesday Trump also attacked Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, after he seemed caught off guard Monday when questioned about her report detailing national medical supply issues and widespread coronavirus testing delays.

“Where did he come from, the inspector general?” Trump asked reporters, repeatedly questioning, “What’s his name?”

“Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!” Trump tweeted Tuesday about Grimm.

While Trump mentioned that Grimm was inspector general under Obama, he left out that she has held federal watchdog positions since 1999, in Democrat and Republican administrations.

The HHS inspector general’s report found “severe” test shortages at hospitals and “widespread” shortages of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. In some cases, hospitals have turned to homemade or construction masks, and one hospital said it is accepting homemade cloth gowns from a quilter’s guild, according to the report.

Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted that Trump should consider IG findings “a TO DO list & not criticism.”

“I encourage Pres Trump 2view IGs as helpers 2hold bureaucracy accountable+draining swamp,” Grassley tweeted.

about the author

Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is a graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.  Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.

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