President Trump has ousted the federal watchdog leading the panel Congress established to oversee implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief law.
Trump removed Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general, from his post on Monday, making him ineligible to serve as chairman of the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The new coronavirus relief law allows only current inspectors general to fill that role.
The president designated Sean O’Donnell, the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency, to serve as the temporary Pentagon watchdog in addition to his current position. Trump also picked Jason Abend to be the permanent inspector general at the Defense Department, but the nomination requires Senate confirmation.
Fine had served as acting Pentagon inspector general for more than four years and had been inspector general at the Justice Department for 11 years.
Why it matters: The move “will be seen by some as another instance of the president chafing at independent oversight,” The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima says.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday that the move concerned him, adding that it represents a larger pattern of the president seeking “sycophants” and loyalists. "This is leading to an epidemic of incompetence throughout the government," Smith said. "What he cares about is people kissing his ass. If the job gets done? That's secondary."
Critics have plenty of examples in Trump’s recent dealings with independent federal watchdogs.
Trump on Friday fired the inspector general of the intelligence community, who had informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint the led to the president’s impeachment. This week, Trump has attacked the Health and Human Services inspector general after the office issued a report that said hospitals were citing “severe shortages of testing supplies” and other issues that were hampering their ability to care for patients and staff. “Many hospitals noted that they were competing with other providers for limited supplies, and that government intervention and coordination could help reconcile this problem nationally,” the report said.
“Another Fake Dossier!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
At his Monday coronavirus briefing, he dismissed the report as “just wrong” without any further details or evidence and he implied that the inspector general and her report might be politically motivated. “Where did he come from, the inspector general?” Trump snapped at a reporter Monday. “What’s his name?” He implied the same on Tuesday, noting that the IG had served during the Obama administration. Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general at HHS who authored the report, has served in the office since 1999 under both Democratic and Republican administrations.