'Brazen' Ousting of Watchdog on Coronavirus Relief Oversight Panel by Trump Under Fire

Glenn Fine, acting Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Defense, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning firearm accessory regulation and enforcing federal and state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) on Capitol Hill, December 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'Brazen' Ousting of Watchdog on Coronavirus Relief Oversight Panel by Trump Under Fire

"That Trump is using a pandemic to cover for his attack on democracy should send a chill down the spine of every patriotic American."

A pair of advocacy groups that monitor the White House strongly condemned on Tuesday President Donald Trump's dismissal of Glenn Fine, the inspector general tasked with overseeing the federal government's implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief law, calling the move a barefaced attack on transparency.

As Common Dreams reported, Trump removed Fine from his position as acting Pentagon inspector general on Monday. Because the CARES Act allows only current inspectors general to head the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee--created as part of the relief bill--Fine became unable to serve as the panel's lead watchdog.

"Trump's brazen termination of Fine must stiffen the backbone of Congress to approve necessary oversight to ensure relief ends up in the wallets of workers, not profiteers," said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs with Public Citizen.

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) is one of the key oversight mechanisms in the new law and gives the committee broad authority to check for abuses in how the funds are doled out, as Politico reported. The law gives the committee chair subpoena power and calls for regular reporting to Congress--though Trump already indicated last month his intention to disregard the law's oversight mandates.

Further fueling the advocacy groups' concerns about Fine's removal is that the firing came just days after Trump fired intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who'd informed Congress last year of the whistleblower complaint regarding Trump's conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Atkinson's dismissal came one day after Trump announced his nomination of White House lawyer Brian Miller to serve as "special inspector general" to oversee the Treasury Department's handling of the new law's $500 billion in funds for large corporations.

In light of those developments, Fine's dismissal represents "a continuation of the all-out attack Trump is waging on those with the power to hold his administration accountable," wrote Jordan Libowitz and Donald Sherman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Libowitz, CREW's communications director, and Sherman, the group's deputy director, called Fine's dismissal "the canary in the coalmine" and said it's clear Trump's no transparency advocate:

It's hard to read the timing of [Fine's]removal as anything other than an attempt at the prevention of independent oversight. What's worse, it's not happening in a vacuum. President Trump's removal of Fine comes in the midst of an ethical firestorm surrounding the Trump administration's coronavirus response. For example, in his signing statement for the coronavirus bill, Trump argued that he could gag the new special IG for Pandemic Recovery from reporting administration misconduct or obstruction directly to Congress. There's absolutely no reason to do that if you believe in transparency.

"That Trump is using a pandemic to cover for his attack on democracy should send a chill down the spine of every patriotic American," added Libowitz and Sherman. "'Kiss my ring or be replaced with a lackey' is no way to run a democracy."

The Democrat-controlled House Oversight Committee, meanwhile, is moving to get Fine--now demoted to Pentagon's deputy principal inspector general--back in the role of heading PRAC with new legislation released Wednesday.

To counter "Trump's abuse of authority," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), "our legislation would allow the chair of this new committee to be selected from any of the Inspectors General or other senior officials in Inspector General offices."

"We must not allow President Trump to openly flout the oversight measures that Congress put in place," she said. "There are literally trillions of taxpayer dollars at stake, and Americans across the political spectrum want those funds to be spent without waste, fraud, abuse, or profiteering."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.