Senate Confirms White House Lawyer as Watchdog for Virus Funds

Brian Miller testifies last month before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. (Alex Wong/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed a White House lawyer as a watchdog to oversee a $500 billion bailout fund to support industries struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Brian Miller currently works in the White House Counsel’s Office and President Donald Trump in April tapped him to serve as special inspector general for pandemic recovery. Created as part of the $2.2 trillion economic response bill known as the CARES Act, the office is tasked with conducting investigations and audits into how the Treasury Department distributes the half-trillion dollars in loans, loan guarantees and other economic relief included in the law.

Miller served as inspector general of the General Services Administration from 2005 until 2014, a tenure that saw his team expose multiple scandals at the agency, including top officials improperly intervening in contract negotiations.

His work in the job also revealed misconduct by former GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, who once tried to cut his office’s budget and compared his employees to “terrorists.”

Testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee last month, Miller promised senators he would be independent if confirmed to the position, pointing to his time conducting investigations into the GSA.

“If the president removes me, he removes me,” Miller told the committee. “If I am unable to do my job, I will resign.”

Democrats doubted Miller’s promises and only Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala., crossed party lines and voted for his confirmation on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer came out against Miller in the middle of May, saying a call with the nominee left the New York Democrat unconvinced “that he had the necessary independence to do this job.” Schumer at the time said Miller was evasive on questions about his work in the White House.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also raised concerns about Miller’s candor after the nominee dodged questions about a letter he wrote in December to the Government Accountability Office indicating the White House would not turn over “factual information and legal views” related to the withheld military aid package at the center of Trump’s impeachment.

At his nomination hearing, Miller explained he did not turn over the requested information because the Office of Management and Budget had in an earlier response.

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Tuesday that Miller’s job in the White House made him a poor fit for the job overseeing the massive pot of money.

“I cannot in good conscience vote to confirm Brian Miller to be the special inspector general because I believe his current role in the Office of White House Counsel and relationship with the president makes it impossible for him to remain independent as he investigations the administration’s response to the pandemic,” Manchin said in a statement. 

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