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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Glenn Fine (Image source: Public domain)
Donald Trump is continuing his assault on inspectors general, firing his second one in a week while being highly critical of a third. This was surely done to remove him from a newer position to oversee the spending of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package. Before he signed the legislation for the package, he questioned the need for this position.
Glenn Fine was previously a private attorney and prosecutor and was then named by former President Bill Clinton to be the inspector general of the Justice Department. He stayed in the position through former President George W. Bush's two terms and into former President Barack Obama's first term. He became the acting inspector general of the Defense Department in 2016 and stayed in that role until Trump fired him on Tuesday.
He was informed of the move on Monday and was replaced by Sean W. O'Donnell, the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency. He will be inspector general of both positions until a permanent replacement is found for the Defense Department.
A council of inspectors general selected Fine to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee late last month The position was created after the stimulus package required the watchdog permission.
Just last Friday Trump notified Congress he was removing Michael Atkinson as inspector general of the intelligence community. Atkinson had alerted Congress last September to the whistleblower's complaint about Trump, which led to him being impeached by the House. He was later acquitted in the Senate.
"We wanted inspectors general because of an out-of-control president named Richard Nixon, and this president is trying to destroy them," said Project on Government Oversight executive director Danielle Brian. "What's happened this week has been a total full-on assault on the IG system."
Trump only gave the explanation that Fine was a holdover from the Obama administration, and he believes he could be biased but also admitted that he'd never even met Fine.
"We have a lot of IGs in from the Obama era," said the president on Tuesday. "And, as you know, it's a presidential decision. And I left them, largely, I mean, changed some, but I left them. ... but when we have, you know, reports of bias and when we have different things coming in ... I don't know Fine. I don't think I ever met Fine."
Dwrena K. Allen, the Defense Department spokeswoman, confirmed that Fine "is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee."
No longer the acting inspector general, this makes Fine ineligible to oversee the spending of the $2.2 trillion surplus package. He will, however, continue to serve in his current position as principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon. He had held both acting and deputy positions.
Trump nominated Jason Abend, senior policy adviser at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to be the permanent Defense Department inspector general.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, will be tasked with appointing a new stimulus spending watchdog head.
The law that was passed in February, that will send checks to most Americans and provide loans for small businesses and corporations, mandated that a group conduct and coordinate audits. Investigators will look for waste, fraud, and abuse in the disbursement of loans, loan guarantees, and financial payments to households and businesses.
Before signing the bill into law, Trump questioned the constitutionality of the group and said the administration won't allow the inspector general to provide information to Congress without "presidential supervision." He referred to it as an executive branch authority violation.
Democrats came down on Trump for removing Fine from his position. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the move "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."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) opined, "President Trump is abusing the coronavirus pandemic to eliminate honest and independent public servants because they are willing to speak truth to power and because he is so clearly afraid of strong oversight."
A Homeland Security appointee in the George W. Bush administration, Paul Rosenzweig, slammed Trump's move to fire Fine as "an affront to independence and oversight," adding, "Frankly, if the House of Representatives does not condition all further covid aid on the restriction of the president's removal authority, they will have made a mistake."
Trump has also been very critical of the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. That office released a survey on Monday of 300 hospitals in the United States whose largest complaint was a "severe" and "widespread" shortage of testing supplies and protective gear.
Trump, however, has insisted that the U.S. carried out more COVID-19 testing than any other country, nearly 1.8 million tests so far. He was particularly upset by reporters asking him to explain his remarks in light of the HHS inspector general survey.
"So give me the name of the inspector general," he said. "Could politics be entered into that?"
The principal deputy inspector general of HHS since January, Christi A. Grimm, has worked in that office since 1999. Like Fine, she has worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, slamming Grimm, pointing out her work during the Obama administration. "Why didn't the I.G., who spent eight 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. and others in charge before doing her report?" and added "Another fake dossier!"
Trump has indicated he plans to nominate White House attorney Brian Miller to serve as the new special inspector general for the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a position required in the surplus package, also known as the Cares Act.
Miller was formerly a General Services Administration inspector general in the Bush and Obama administrations. Watchdog groups approve of him, though there is question whether he will retain independence because of his role with the White House.
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