Trump removes watchdog tapped for $2T virus rescue oversight

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has removed the inspector general tapped to chair a special oversight board for the $2.2 trillion economic relief package on the coronavirus, the latest in a series of steps Trump has taken to confront government watchdogs tasked with oversight of the executive branch.

In the past four days, Trump has fired one inspector general tied to his impeachment, castigated another he felt was overly critical of the coronavirus response and sidelined a third meant to safeguard against wasteful spending of funds for businesses in economic distress.

“We’re seeing since Friday a wrecking ball across the IG community,'' said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group. On Friday, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, and on Monday assailed a health and human services official who criticized the administration's response to the coronavirus crisis.

On Tuesday, Trump removed Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general and a veteran watchdog who had been selected by peers last month to oversee the economic aid package. Now it’s unclear who will oversee the rescue law.

Trump's latest move threatens to upend the rigorous oversight that Democrats in Congress demanded for the huge sums of money being pumped into the American economy because of the virus.

It's also part of a broader conflict between Trump, a president averse to outside criticism, and the watchdog community tasked with identifying mismanagement and problems inside government agencies.

Trump’s actions “only undermine the effectiveness of the pandemic response” legislation and the ability of inspectors general to do their job, Brian said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Trump's removal of Fine, saying he is moving to "undermine oversight.” And Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer swiftly condemned Trump's action.