President Donald Trump on Tuesday replaced the acting inspector general leading the federal panel of watchdogs charged with overseeing his administration's handling of the $2 trillion COVID-19 response effort.
Glenn Fine, who was appointed to helm the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee last month by a group of fellow inspectors general, was abruptly removed from his position as the acting Pentagon watchdog. Trump named Sean O'Donnell, the inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the role instead. O'Donnell will continue to hold his position at the EPA.
"Mr. Fine is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee," Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon inspector general's office, said in a statement. She added that Fine has been demoted to principal deputy inspector general of the Pentagon, a job not ranked highly enough to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Inspectors general are typically seen as nonpolitical operatives and are tasked with an independent watchdog role, overseeing various facets of the government and checking for waste, fraud, and abuse. Trump has clashed with several of them recently as they produced documentation that he views as unflattering to his administration.
That includes Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, whom the president railed against after she released a report detailing COVID-19 testing delays and critical supply shortages at U.S. medical centers.
"Another Fake Dossier!" Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
Trump's move against Glenn Fine follows the president's Friday termination of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, who dealt with the whistleblower report that eventually resulted in Trump's impeachment. The president did not name a successor.
"As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment…it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general," Trump wrote in a letter to Congress. "That is no longer the case with regard to [Atkinson]."
These actions have been condemned by Democrats, who say the president is trying to inoculate his administration from criticism. "President Trump is abusing the coronavirus pandemic to eliminate honest and independent public servants," tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), "because they are willing to speak truth to power and because he is so clearly afraid of strong oversight." The president also recently hired Brian D. Miller, a lawyer for the White House, as the special inspector general overseeing the $500 billion in stimulus loans carved out for corporations—a move that drew similar criticism from those who noted the close nature of Miller's relationship with the Trump administration.
Republicans have been considerably quieter, though Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) had a recommendation: "I encourage Pres Trump 2view IGs as helpers 2hold bureaucracy accountable+draining swamp," he tweeted. "We all work to solve problems Esp in unprecedented pandemic, IG reports shld be viewed as a TO DO list & not criticism."