Trump removes top virus inspector general

Michael Atkinson was the first to get the chop from US president. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump removed the inspector general who was to oversee the government’s US$2.3 trillion coronavirus response, the spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office said on Tuesday, fuelling concerns in Congress about how his administration would manage the package.

It was the Republican president’s most recent manoeuvre to seize control over his administration’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic and attack inspectors general, the federal watchdogs responsible for safeguarding agencies against waste, fraud and abuse.

Glenn Fine, acting inspector general for the Department of Defence, was named last week to chair a committee acting as a sort of uber-watchdog over the response, including health policy and the massive economic relief package, the largest in US history.

But Trump has since designated the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general to be the new acting Pentagon inspector general, a spokeswoman said.

Fine, who named 11 other IGs to the committee last week, is no longer on the watchdog committee.

Because Fine is no longer acting inspector general at the Pentagon, he is not eligible for the role overseeing the emergency coronavirus package, known as the Cares Act.

Politico first reported the ouster.

Congressional Democrats said Fine’s removal, less than a week after his appointment, strengthened their determination to conduct strict oversight of the massive spending package passed last month.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation” by Trump.

“We will continue to exercise our oversight to ensure that this historic investment of taxpayer dollars is being used wisely and efficiently to help workers and families,” she said in a statement.

The fiscal stimulus bill is unleashing a flood of money for families and businesses and has created three watchdog groups consisting of federal officials and lawmakers.

Pelosi announced a fourth oversight body, a select House committee, last week.

On Friday, the White House said Trump intended to nominate Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at the Customs and Border Protection office, to be inspector general at the Pentagon.

The White House also announced Trump intended to nominate Brian Miller, a White House lawyer and former inspector general at the General Services Administration, to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery, responsible for overseeing the Treasury Department’s handling of funds.

Since then, Trump has mounted several broadsides against inspectors general.

On Tuesday, he accused, without evidence, the Health Department’s inspector general of having produced a “fake dossier” on hospitals suffering crippling shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, Trump fired the intelligence community’s inspector general, who was involved in the events leading to his impeachment.