Tues 5/19: Eliminating the witnesses… “Yes” on H.R. 6668 – Inspectors General Independence Act

Trump’s quote in response to whistleblower Rick Bright.

Action – Call your legislators to support protection for government watchdogs.

In context, the war on inspectors general is the third and final front in Trump’s war on any kind of check on the executive branch. In the past few months alone, the White House has argued that Congress doesn’t have the right to oversee the executive branch. It has sought to convince courts that matters of oversight shouldn’t be decided by the judicial branch, either. And in going after inspectors general, an accountability mechanism embedded in the executive branch, it is staking a simple but sweeping claim: No one has the right to check the executive outside of quadrennial elections.” (Atlantic)

Inspectors general serve at the pleasure of the president, a fact few of us ever thought about until Trump took office. He’s fired an unprecedented number of these public guardians, including the one tasked with oversight of the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief funds, almost half the size of the entire annual federal budget. Daniel Meyer,  who led the Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program at the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General until he was fired in March 2018, stated:

It is not rocket science what the President is doing here. He has said publicly that he is the oversight authority and the IGs work for him.

On April 9th, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) introduced HR 6668 – Inspectors General Independence Act to give them more independence and allow them to do their jobs without fear of political retribution. It establishes seven-year terms for Inspectors General and protects them from politically-motivated firings by only allowing for removal for cause. Fellow Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut says he will push a companion bill in the Senate

We simply cannot allow President Trump to weaponize independent oversight positions in his administration to reward his friends, punish his political enemies, and cover up wrongdoing,” Murphy said in a statement. 

Minimal script (Representative): I’m calling from [zip code] to ask Rep. [___] to cosponsor and support HR 6668 – Inspectors General Independence Act.

Minimal script (Senators): I’m calling from [zip code] to ask Senator [___] to cosponsor and support Sen. Murphy’s companion bill to HR 6668 – Inspectors General Independence Act.

More script if you want it: It is the job of the legislature to protect our money and our laws, even during a pandemic. And that means you need to pass meaningful protection for non-partisan guardians to protect us from corruption, from outside or from within, even from our own president.

Rep-check here. (Neither Carbajal or Brownley have sign on yet.)

Contact
Rep. Julia Brownley: email(CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal:
email.(CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
and Senator Harris: email, DC (202) 224-3553, LA (213) 894-5000, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 355-9041, SD (619) 239-3884
Who is my representative/senator?: https://whoismyrepresentative.com

List of Recent IG Firings

Note: “There is no modern precedent for so many firings of inspectors general in such a compressed time period. Obama fired one inspector general, citing job performance issues. President Ronald Reagan tried to remove several but reversed himself after aides told him that watchdogs are not political appointees in the traditional sense.” (Wapo)

State Department – Steve Linick:

Congressional Democrats say this watchdog fired by President Donald Trump last week was investigating how the State Department improperly pushed through a $7 billion Saudi arms sale over congressional objections.  Trump prefers to focus on early reports that Pompeo may have improperly ordered staff to run personal errands for him and that he has no moral issue of using taxpayer money to make personal servants out of government employees. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked for a “detailed and substantial justification” for Linick’s removal within 30 days. Besides the well-known issues, news reports cited diplomats complaining about his wife, Susan, traveling with him across the Middle East during a partial government shutdown as well as a call for an investigation into his use of State Department aircraft and funds for frequent visits to Kansas, where he was reported to be considering a Senate run. His duplicity on the public dime has angered the Kansas City Star:

“If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, then he should quit his rather important day job and do that.

Or if, as he told The Star and The Wichita Eagle in a testy, credulity-straining interview on Thursday, he isn’t even thinking about it, then he should by all means focus on U.S. diplomacy — remember diplomacy? — and stop hanging out here every chance he gets….

you should know that Kansans are interested in the world beyond the Great Plains. And would frown on even a fellow Kansan using his government office to fund what looks increasingly like campaign travel.”

If this is all sounding very familiar, “personal errands” and “taxpayer-funded private travel” were some of the hallmarks of the corruption-ridden reign of former EPA chief Schott Pruitt.

Intelligence Community – Michael Atkinson: Trump fired the IG for the intelligence community during a press conference, calling Atkinson a “disgrace” who did a “terrible job.” Atkinson, who handled the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment inquiry, said in a statement that he believed Trump fired him for carrying out his “legal obligations.”  Michael Horowitz, chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Justice Department IG, blasted the move to fire Atkinson in a statement early Saturday.

Defense Department’s acting IG – Glenn Fine: Fine was slated to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, an oversight body created by the $2.2 trillion CARES Actto ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely as the administration attempts to get the economy back on track during the pandemic. The law stipulates that only current IGs can hold the position, so Trump’s removal of Fine from his acting position prevents the well-regarded watchdog from leading the oversight committee. In response, House Democrats introduced a bill on Wednesday that would “allow any senior staff or principal deputy IGs to serve.” Fine is still the principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon, a position he held prior to becoming the acting IG.

Transportation Department – Mitch Behm: At DOT, the acting IG was overseeing a high profile investigation of Secretary Chao’s alleged favoritism benefiting her husband Senator Mitch McConnell’s political prospects, but has now been replaced with a political appointee from within the agency. The acting IG’s ouster calls into question the future of the Chao-McConnell investigation, other critical oversight, and whether the watchdog was dismissed for unearthing damaging information. Behm has worked with the Transportation Department since 2003, including as a financial expert, project manager and program director. Before he was tapped to serve as deputy inspector general, Behm was the assistant inspector general for surface transportation audits. He is being replaced by Howard “Skip” Elliott, a former executive at CSX Transportation, who will continue to serve as the the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Trump ultimately wants to install a Justice Department attorney, Eric J. Soskin, in the job.

Health and Human Services – Christi Grimm: Grimm has worked as the Department of Health and Human Services’ principal deputy inspector general since January 2020 and has led the agency in an acting capacity. Mr. Trump’s announcement of a nominee for a permanent Health and Human Services inspector general came after Grimm released a report detailing testing and supply shortages in hospitals responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Grimm found “severe” shortages of testing supplies, “widespread shortages of PPE,” difficulties in maintaining adequate staffing levels and in expanding hospital capacity.

 

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