WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has removed the acting Defense Department inspector general, Glenn Fine, who was tapped to chair an oversight board tasked with overseeing $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funding.
Mr. Fine and a veteran watchdog, had been selected by peers last month for the position. Now it’s unclear who will oversee the coronavirus relief funds.
Some people are saying this is yet another effort by Trump to undermine federal oversight. “We’re seeing since Friday a wrecking ball across the IG community,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group.
The move threatens to upend the strict oversight that Democrats in Congress had demanded of the huge sums of money being pumped into the American economy because of the virus.
“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,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California told The Associated Press.
The action follows 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, as well as Trump’s public condemnation of the acting Health and Human Services watchdog over a survey of hospitals about the coronavirus response.
Trump has also bristled at the oversight of the coronavirus law, suggesting in a statement last month that some of the mandates from Congress are unconstitutional.
In a quick move last month, Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general and chair of a council of watchdogs, had appointed Fine the head of the new coronavirus oversight board.
But Fine will no longer be able to serve in the role because Trump has nominated a replacement inspector general at the Pentagon and appointed an acting one to serve in Fine’s place, according to an email from an assistant Defense Department inspector general that was obtained by The Associated Press.
The demotion disqualifies Fine from serving on the oversight board, which was created by Congress to be the nexus of oversight for coronavirus funding. He will instead revert to the position of principle deputy inspector general.
House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., stated, “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.”
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, a committed whistleblower advocate, tweeted at Trump not to view inspectors general as critics; however, he didn’t mention Fine by name. He said the officials hold the federal bureaucracy accountable.
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