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Trump sidelines inspector general in coronavirus spending

Updated April 7, 2020 - 8:40 pm

WASHINGTON — In what critics called a purge of Washington watchdogs, President Donald Trump on Tuesday sidelined the inspector general who had been chosen to oversee CARES Act spending.

Trump dismissed Glenn Fine as acting Defense Department inspector general and replaced him with Sean O’Donnell, inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency. Fine will go back to being the principal deputy inspector general at the Defense Department, but will no longer chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

The day before, Trump criticized the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, and the day before that, he fired the inspector general for the intelligence community whose disclosure of a whistleblower complaint to Congress led to Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.

The actions led critics to rebuke the president while supporters defended the moves.

“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,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, accused Trump of working to “corrupt” the $2-trillion stimulus package.

But one-time Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord, who also worked in the Reagan White House, told the Review-Journal that he approved of Trump’s actions. He said Trump believes “that people in the permanent bureaucracy who couldn’t stand him were going out of his way to sabotage him.

“And now he’s not hesitating to say something, do something, when he thinks that situation is in play.”

Asked Tuesday about his decision to remove Fine from oversight of the $2 trillion fund, Trump responded that he made a presidential decision and wondered if Fine was an Obama or Clinton appointee.

According to his resume, Fine has served as an inspector general for the Department of Justice or Defense since 2000.

It was not the first dust-up Trump has had with inspectors general.

As recently as last year, Trump had been led to hope that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s probe into the investigation of his 2016 campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia would find it had been launched in bad faith.

Then in December, Horowitz released a report that catalogued 17 errors or omissions in applications to wiretap one-time Trump campaign adviser Carter Page that infringed on his civil rights, but nonetheless found no evidence of political bias behind the probe.

On Friday, Trump dismissed Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who alerted Congress to a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which opened the door to House hearings and Trump’s impeachment.

Horowitz, who also serves as the head of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, released a statement that lauded Atkinson “for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight” and praised his handling of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint.

During Monday’s daily briefing of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, Trump was asked about an new IG report from the Department of Health and Human Services that found shortages of testing supplies and protective gear in U.S. hospitals.

“It’s just wrong,” Trump responded. “Did I hear the word ‘inspector general’? Really. It’s wrong.”

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted about the HHS Inspector General Christi Grimm, “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!”

Politifact has rated previous claims that the Obama administration did nothing about the coronavirus as “false.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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