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Trump removes independent watchdog tasked with overseeing coronavirus emergency funds

Late last month, a group of independent federal watchdogs tapped Fine, a career official, to lead the group tasked with preventing “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the use of coronavirus relief money.

A Defense Department spokeswoman did not explain why Fine was removed from the acting inspector general position, but she did explain that it meant he was no longer eligible to stay on the accountability committee, which is limited to inspector generals and acting inspector generals.

“The DoD OIG is still part of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee,” spokesperson Dwrena K. Allen told CNN, using the acronym for the defense department and the inspector general position. “Mr. Fine is no longer serving as the Chair because he is no longer serving in an acting IG capacity.”

“Glenn Fine reverts to his position as the Principal Deputy Inspector General. He remains focused and committed to the important mission of the DoD OIG,” Allen added.

Latest attack

Fine’s removal marks Trump’s latest attack on the world of independent federal oversight.

Since Friday, Trump has fired the Intelligence Community inspector general who informed Congress of the whistleblower complaint that led to his impeachment and attacked the Health and Human Services inspector general who found vast concerns at hospitals over supply shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, called Fine’s removal “a direct insult to the American taxpayers — of all political stripes — who want to make sure their tax dollars are not squandered on wasteful boondoggles, incompetence, or political favors.”

“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,” she said.

Maloney noted that Fine “was fully supported by Congress and the Inspector General Community. President Trump’s actions are a blatant attempt to degrade the independence of Inspectors General who serve as checks against waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Trump has designated Sean W. O’Donnell, who is the Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General, to serve as the Defense Department’s acting inspector general in addition to his current duties at the EPA, according to Allen. On Monday, Trump also nominated Jason Abend to be the Pentagon’s Inspector General, she said.

The former intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, said in a statement that be believed Trump ousted him for doing his job.

“It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General, and from my commitment to continue to do so,” Atkinson wrote.

Atkinson said he was “disappointed and saddened” by Trump’s decision to oust him, while the President said that Atkinson did not have his “fullest confidence.”

Trump defended his decision on Saturday, charging that Atkinson “did a terrible job, absolutely terrible” and “took a fake report and gave it to Congress.”

The President struck a similar tone about the Health and Human Services watchdog during Monday’s coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.

Trump repeatedly suggested, without evidence, that the HHS watchdog report detailing hospital shortages was politically motivated when pressed on its findings that the nation’s hospitals are dealing with “severe” and “widespread” shortages of needed medical supplies, hampering the ability to test and respond to the coronavirus pandemic adequately and protect medical staff.

He continued to lash out against the HHS inspector general via Twitter on Tuesday.

“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!” Trump tweeted.

HHS did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.


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