Trump removes inspector general from committee overseeing $2 trillion coronavirus relief package

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump replaced acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine Monday night, a move that also removes Fine as the top watchdog for COVID-19 stimulus.

Fine had been selected by fellow inspectors general to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The inspectors general created the committee to oversee the roughly $2 trillion stimulus deal, passed last month by Congress and signed into law by Trump to mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

The committee chairman also was given the power to issue subpoenas and investigate officials inside and out of government.

Trump had signaled his displeasure with the law’s oversight provision, when he issued a relatively rare signing statement. Trump said he would ignore portions of the law demanded by some Democrats to give Congress additional visibility into the stimulus spending, arguing that those requirements would infringe on the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

“Yesterday, the president nominated Mr. Jason Abend for the position of DoD Inspector General,” Dwrena Allen, a spokesman for the Pentagon Inspector General, said on Tuesday. “The same day, the president also designated Mr. Sean W. O’Donnell, who is the Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General, to serve as the Acting DoD IG in addition to his current duties at the EPA.

“Mr. Fine is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.”

Fine, regarded as a non-partisan straight shooter, will take a secondary job at the Pentagon.

Fine had been acting inspector general at the Pentagon since 2015. In his previous role as inspector general for the Justice Department, he received high marks from Danielle Bryan, executive director of the non-partisan government watchdog the Project On Government Oversight.

She said Tuesday that Fine’s removal was likely made to ensure he would not be overseeing stimulus spending.

“There’s no question in my mind that the president’s sudden interest in filling this vacancy is to undercut Fine’s role running the pandemic recovery,” Bryan said.

Last Friday, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general who informed Congress about an anonymous whistleblower complaint that described Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden. The complaint led to Trump’s impeachment and ultimately his acquittal in the Senate.

Trump, Bryan said, “is taking a wrecking ball across the IG community.”

Trump blasted a report on Monday from the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general on problems facing hospitals dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that cited a shortage of tests and long wait times. When asked about the findings, Trump declared them “wrong,” asked for the inspector general’s name and suggested the conclusions were tainted by politics.

Fine will take up his old post as principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon, Allen said.