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Trump’s attacks on inspectors general galvanize unusual coalition of critics

“We would hope the White House would view IGs as your partners in objectively identifying and rooting out waste within the federal government,” Lankford and Portman added.

Their plea for support of the dozens of inspectors general throughout the government comes one day after Trump blew past a deadline to provide a bipartisan group of senators with a fuller explanation of his decision to fire the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, late on April 3.

The GOP senators’ gentle rebuke of Trump is the latest in an unusual, concerted push by Democrats, Republicans and the federal watchdog community to brush back the president for his incursion into the independence of inspectors general.

And it came just minutes before a bipartisan duo, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote to Michael Horowitz, who leads the council of inspectors general, demanding information about the White House’s process for vetting and submitting nominees for confirmation by the Senate.

Atkinson, who was nominated by Trump and later confirmed by the Senate, provoked the president’s fury by informing Congress of a whistleblower complaint that led to his impeachment in December. Trump also sidelined Glenn Fine, the former acting Pentagon inspector general expected to lead oversight of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus emergency relief measure, effectively demoting him just days after his fellow inspectors general picked him for the role.

Trump’s recent actions have galvanized an unlikely coalition of critics, headlined by several of his longtime congressional allies, who are often loath to criticize him, even indirectly.

In their letter, Lankford and Portman specifically asked Trump to protect and support whistleblowers, whom they said “play a key role in assisting IGs identify waste, fraud, and abuse.”

“We encourage you to send a strong message to the executive branch to work with IGs, not against them,” the senators added.

Trump has also assailed the Health and Human Services Department’s watchdog — who has spent 21 years serving administrations of both parties — attacking her as a political operative over her finding that hospitals across the nation were unprepared for the coronavirus crisis.

And Trump has threatened another core function of inspectors general, telling Congress last month that he is the ultimate authority on whether federal watchdogs — technically employees of the Executive Branch — can share certain findings with lawmakers. Portman and Lankford indicated they were particularly concerned about the ability of inspectors general to report their findings in an “unbiased” way to Congress, pointing to a potential intra-GOP clash over the matter.

And Trump has relied heavily on acting inspectors general, sometimes for years, to perform functions that often require Senate confirmation. Though he recently nominated a slate of five inspectors general to fill vacant positions permanently, the ranks of more than six-dozen inspectors general are replete with temporary appointments, which gives Trump more direct influence than he would have over Senate-confirmed appointees.

Though Trump’s attacks on these officials have intensified of late, he has long swiped at independent overseers, including Horowitz, who has led two high-profile reviews of the FBI investigations that have in part defined Trump’s presidency: the probe of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information and the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia during the 2016 election.

“As bad as the I.G. Report is for the FBI and others, and it is really bad, remember that I.G. Horowitz was appointed by Obama,” Trump said of the inspector general who was confirmed with unanimous support in 2012 and had previously been confirmed to a separate role by the GOP-led Senate in 2003. “There was tremendous bias and guilt exposed, so obvious, but Horowitz couldn’t get himself to say it. Big credibility loss.”

The wide-ranging squeeze on the IG community prompted an unusual pushback from the normally technocratic and muted watchdog community. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, lamented Trump’s decision to remove Atkinson for doing his job properly, and he vowed that other IGs would not be dissuaded from “aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee.”

Horowitz is due to name a successor to Fine to oversee federal coronavirus relief efforts, though he has asked lawmakers for the power to choose from a broader pool of officials than the law currently allows.

Trump’s recent moves have also prompted outrage from House Democrats, who accused Trump of attempting to erode one of the few functional checks on mismanagement and abuse in the Executive Branch.

Top House Democrats have proposed measures that would prohibit Trump from removing inspectors general without “good cause.” And some proposed legislation that would allow Fine to return to the coronavirus oversight role to which he was initially appointed.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has pressed Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, for details on whether Atkinson was impeded from conducting any investigations before his ouster, as well as a pledge that Grenell wouldn’t retaliate against any intelligence officials over perceived disloyalty to Trump.

Source: politico.com
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