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Donald Trump removes watchdog tapped to oversee coronavirus relief

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Via Financial Times

Donald Trump has replaced the inspector general set to oversee how the $2tn coronavirus relief package is spent, drawing immediate condemnation from senior Democrats. 

Mr Trump removed Glenn Fine as acting inspector-general of the US defence department on Monday, the Pentagon confirmed in a statement. The move also strips him of his role as chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which gave him the top oversight role of the stimulus package

“Mr Fine is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee,” said Dwrena Allen from the defence department’s inspector-general’s office, adding that he had reverted to the position of principal deputy inspector-general.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, said Mr Fine’s removal was “part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the president” and vowed to maintain oversight of how the stimulus money — which includes a $500bn boost for business — was spent.

She depicted the move as retribution for Democrats’ efforts to prevent money earmarked for corporations from being spent on executive bonuses, stock buybacks or dividends.

“We will continue to exercise our oversight to ensure that this historic investment of taxpayer dollars is being used wisely and efficiently to help workers and families,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, described the move as a “corrupt action”. He said Mr Trump was “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”. 

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The Cares Act, which implemented the stimulus package, mandated oversight mechanisms including the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which is overseen by a special counsel of inspectors-general from across the federal government. 

The act also created a special inspector-general housed inside the Treasury department to oversee the $500bn loan programme. Mr Trump last week said he would nominate Brian Miller, a White House lawyer, to the role, drawing further criticism from Democrats, who called the choice “a mockery of independence”. 

Mr Fine is the latest inspector-general to be replaced by Mr Trump. Late on Friday the president fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector-general who kick-started Mr Trump’s impeachment proceedings by alerting lawmakers to a whistleblower complaint last year.

The Twitter account of the defence department’s inspector-general had earlier retweeted a stark message from Michael Horowitz, chair of the inspectors-general council, praising Mr Atkinson.

Mr Horowitz, who is also inspector-general at the justice department, also said in the weekend statement that the inspector-general community would continue its “aggressive, independent oversight” of the work it oversees, including the $2tn coronavirus relief package. 

Mr Trump has replaced Mr Fine with Sean O’Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector-general, as the defence department’s acting inspector-general. He nominated Jason Abend as his permanent replacement, subject to Senate confirmation.

Additional reporting by Kadhim Shubber in Washington

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