Donald Trump fired another inspector general on Tuesday.
Just days after dismissing Michael Atkinson for the high crime of acknowledging the whistleblower complaint at the heart of last year’s impeachment inquiry, Trump removed acting Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine, optics be damned.
In addition to representing a second rebuke of independent oversight in the space of a week, this appears to be an effort to assert control over the provision of funds approved by Congress for various coronavirus relief programs. Fine was the official set to oversee implementation of the $2 trillion virus stimulus bill.
“A panel of inspectors general had named Fine… to lead the group charged with monitoring the relief effort, but Trump removed [him] from his post, instead naming the EPA inspector general to serve as the temporary Pentagon watchdog in addition to his other responsibilities”, Politico, which first reported the news, said, adding that the decision effectively nixed Fine’s coronavirus oversight role “since the new law permits only current inspectors general to fill the position”.
So, basically, Trump made Fine ineligible.
“Mr. Fine is no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee”, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon inspector general’s office said. Instead, he’ll go back to being principal deputy inspector general of the Pentagon.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is tasked with carrying out audits, ferreting out waste and making sure the virus relief funds aren’t subject to fraud. In other words, Fine was supposed to make sure trillions in taxpayer money earmarked for crucial epidemic relief programs aren’t squandered and abused. That’s who Trump removed (or, in effect, demoted) on Tuesday.
Again: Optics be damned.
Some worry Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm is next.
“So give me the name of the inspector general”, Trump said Monday, asked about a survey Grimm conducted late last month. In the poll, more than 300 hospital administrators from 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were asked the following trio of simple questions:
- What are your most difficult challenges in responding to COVID-19?
- What strategies is your hospital using to address or mitigate these challenges?
- How could government best support hospitals responding to COVID-19?
The responses weren’t particularly encouraging. “Hospitals reported that severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited ability to monitor the health of patients and staff”, the report reads. Here’s the actual, verbatim passage from the document, (which is embedded in full below):
Hospitals reported that severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited hospitals’ ability to monitor the health of patients and staff Hospitals explained that they were unable to keep up with testing demands because they lacked complete kits and/or the individual components and supplies needed to complete tests, such as nasal swabs, viral transfer media, and reagents used to detect the virus. These shortages left hospitals unable to effectively test staff, patients, and others in the community who reported that they were concerned about possible exposure. One hospital administrator said that across the industry, “millions [of tests] are needed, and we only have hundreds.” Without access to needed testing materials, some hospitals described dividing the media in COVID-19 kits in half to double their capacity and resorting to using the transfer media in flu and strep kits to provide testing. Hospitals described extended waits for COVID-19 test results. Hospitals reported frequently waiting 7 days or longer for test results. According to one hospital, 24 hours would typically be considered a long turnaround time for virus testing. Hospitals’ reliance on external laboratories contributed to delays, particularly as these laboratories became overwhelmed with tests to process from around the State or country. Hospitals also reported delays related to infrequent specimen pickups, mailing delays, and labs’ restrictive business hours. Some hospitals described success getting results more quickly by using commercial labs, whereas others received more timely results from public sources. Still others experienced inconsistent turnaround times, leaving them unable to predict when results would arrive or advise patients on how long they should self-quarantine or undertake other measures while awaiting results Testing challenges exacerbated other challenges, including bed availability, PPE supplies, and staffing shortages. Hospitals reported that to prevent the spread of the virus in the hospital and community, they were treating symptomatic patients as presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 (i.e., an individual with symptoms that strongly indicate COVID-19 and tests have ruled out similar conditions, but without a positive COVID-19 test result). The scarcity of COVID-19 tests and length of time it took to get test results back meant presumptive positive patients greatly strained bed availability, PPE supplies, and staffing.
Although the report didn’t criticize Trump or his administration, the president was perturbed all the same.
“It’s wrong”, he said Monday. “They did serve in the previous admin — you mean the Obama administration?”, Trump asked the reporter. “Thank you for telling me that”.
The threats aren’t even veiled anymore. The president lashed out at Grimm on Twitter Tuesday:
“Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!
For what it’s worth, Grimm has been a federal watchdog for nearly 22 years. According to former inspector general Daniel Levinson, who retired after serving three presidents, including Trump, Grimm’s reputation is “sterling”.