Inspectors General Have Been Targeted for Abuse By Trump

Their job is to hold the federal bureaucracy accountable, which poses a threat to this president.

In 1976, congress passed a law that created an inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services. Their role was to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid, and more than 100 other HHS programs. Since then the legislation has been updated several times, and there are now 73 offices of inspectors general, covering most federal departments and commissions.

Given that the role of inspectors general is to ensure accountability within federal departments, many of them have not fared well in the Trump administration. The first sign of trouble came over two years ago when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz would investigate the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. Here’s what the president tweeted at the time.

Last December, when Horowitz released his report stating that he found no evidence of bias in the FBI’s investigation, both Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham, who had been chosen to look into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, took the unprecedented step of criticizing the findings in a way that undermined the work of the inspector general.

Even during a pandemic crisis, Trump’s need to retaliate against anyone who played a role in his impeachment continues. And so on Friday, he announced the firing of Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community. Atkinson was the recipient of the whistleblower complaint that began the impeachment process. He deemed it to be of “urgent concern” and notified Congress. In other words, for doing his job as it is outlined, Atkinson was fired.

On Monday, Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm released a report titled “Hospital Experiences Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Here is the key takeaway.

Hospitals reported that their most significant challenges centered on testing and caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19 and keeping staff safe. Hospitals also reported substantial challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19. Hospitals described specific challenges, mitigation strategies, and needs for assistance related to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, staffing, supplies and durable equipment; maintaining or expanding facility capacity; and financial concerns.

When asked to comment on the report during Monday’s press briefing, the president first responded by saying, “It’s just wrong. Did I hear the word ‘inspector general’? Really … what’s his name? … could politics be entered into that?” When ABC’s Jon Karl asked about the report again, Trump zeroed in on the fact that Grimm had served during the Obama administration (she actually has experience in the federal government dating back to the Clinton administration). The president went on to call Karl a “third rate reporter” who will “never make it.” It is very likely that Ms. Grimm’s days of being employed by the federal government are numbered.

On Tuesday, one more inspector general got axed. This time, it was the one who would have been in charge of overseeing $2 trillion in stimulus funding.

President Donald Trump has upended the panel of federal watchdogs overseeing his implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus law, tapping a replacement for the Pentagon official who was supposed to lead the effort.

A panel of inspectors general had named Glenn Fine — the acting Pentagon watchdog — to lead the group charged with monitoring the coronavirus relief effort. But Trump on Monday removed Fine from his post, instead naming an EPA inspector general to serve as the temporary Pentagon watchdog.

That decision effectively removed Fine from his role overseeing the coronavirus relief effort, since the new law permits only current inspectors general to fill the position.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, was the first member of Congress to comment on this trend publicly. She nailed it!

President Trump has been engaged in an assault on independent inspectors general since last Friday in order to undermine oversight of his chaotic and deficient response to the coronavirus crisis…

President Trump’s actions are a blatant attempt to degrade the independence of inspectors general who serve as checks against waste, fraud, and abuse.

Anyone whose job is to serve as a check on waste, fraud, and abuse is going to pose a threat to the most corrupt president in this country’s history. That is why inspectors general have become the latest targets of Trump’s abuse.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.