Oversight of $4.5 trillion corporate bailout in ‘grave jeopardy’ as Trump fires independent watchdog

‘A direct insult to the American taxpayers—of all political stripes—who want to make sure that their tax dollars are not squandered on wasteful boondoggles, incompetence, or political favors.’

In a move that critics warned could put independent oversight of a multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus package “in grave jeopardy,” President Donald Trump on Monday fired the official in charge of monitoring the federal government’s implementation of the business-friendly new law.

Trump’s decision to fire acting Pentagon inspector general Glenn Fine—first reported by Politico Tuesday—effectively removed Fine from his position as the lead watchdog on the new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The president signed the CARES Act into law late last month amid criticism that the package did not contain nearly enough oversight for trillions of dollars in corporate bailout money, which progressives characterized as a “slush fund.”

News of the president’s firing of Fine “began circulating on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning,” according to Politico.

Fine was appointed to lead the oversight committee last week by a panel of fellow inspectors general. Because the law only allows current inspectors general to head the committee, Fine’s termination as acting Pentagon inspector general makes him unable to serve in the newly created oversight role.

The inspectors general will have to appoint another official for the position, raising the question of whether Trump will fire that person as well.

Trump’s removal of Fine was widely viewed as part of his broader assault on efforts to hold him and his administration accountable. Late last month, as Common Dreams reported, Trump openly stated his intention to flout congressional oversight requirements contained in the CARES Act.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that Trump’s removal of Fine is “a direct insult to the American taxpayers—of all political stripes—who want to make sure that their tax dollars are not squandered on wasteful boondoggles, incompetence, or political favors.”

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

As Politico explained, “the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is one of three major prongs in the new law meant to provide oversight of the enormous sums to be doled out by the Trump administration.”

Another oversight prong is a new “special inspector general” that will oversee the Treasury Departments handling of $500 billion in funds for large corporations. As Common Dreams reported, Trump announced last Friday his intention to nominate Brian Miller, a White House lawyer, for that role.

“Fox in charge of the henhouse,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said of Trump’s decision to nominate Miller, who must be confirmed by the Senate. “A mockery of independence, putting a Trump lawyer in charge of oversight, with $500 billion in taxpayer money at stake. Trump clearly wants a lapdog, not a watchdog.”

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Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep

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