Trump Removes Pentagon Watchdog Overseeing Stimulus Funds

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus at the White House on April 1, 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump has removed the Pentagon’s acting inspector general a week after he was tasked with the oversight of $2.2 trillion in coronavirus relief funds.

Defense Department spokeswoman Dwrena Allen said in a statement Tuesday that Glenn Fine, the department’s acting inspector general, would resign as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and return to his post as principal deputy inspector general, a position he was first appointed to in 2016.

Trump has nominated Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to serve as the permanent inspector general for the Defense Department. With the Senate on recess due to the Covid-19 pandemic and not expected to return until late April, it is unclear when Abend will get a confirmation hearing for the position.

On an interim basis, the president has reportedly replaced Fine with Sean O’Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general, to service as the Pentagon’s acting internal watchdog.

Appointed to the pandemic response committee by Michael Horowitz, chair of a council of inspectors general, Fine has more than 15 years of experience in the intelligence sector. He first joined the inspector general’s office in 2015, previously serving in the Justice Department in the same role for 11 years.

Fine’s duties on the committee included consulting with inspector generals of several federal departments to distribute funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, Act, which was signed into law late last month.

The pushback from Democrats over Fine’s removal came quickly Tuesday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Trump “playing politics with the oversight of the $2 trillion that Congress appropriated to address this crisis is deeply alarming.”

“President Trump must not treat the coronavirus crisis with the same corruption, cronyism, and cover-ups that have characterized his presidency,” he said in a statement. “Doing so will only hamper the bipartisan effort to help combat coronavirus and get our economy back up and running faster.”

Hoyer continued, “This is exactly why Congress must conduct its own oversight, modeled on the Truman Committee during the Second World War, to ensure that taxpayer resources are being spent in the right way and that this administration is not misusing funds or hindering the effort to protect lives and keep working families afloat.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in his own statement Tuesday that Fine’s removal only “strengthens Democrats’ resolve to hold the administration accountable and enforce the multiple strict oversight provisions of the CARES Act.”

“President Trump is abusing the coronavirus pandemic to eliminate honest and independent public servants because they are willing to speak truth to power and because he is so clearly afraid of strong oversight,” the New York Democrat said.

Last Friday, Trump similarly fired Michael Atkinson, an intelligence community inspector general who oversaw the whistleblower complaint that catalyzed the president’s impeachment. Trump wrote in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he no longer had full confidence in Atkinson as an inspector general.

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