GOP senator warns Trump against sidelining watchdogs

GOP senator warns Trump against sidelining watchdogs
© Greg Nash

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is urging President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE to walk back a signing statement from last month's massive coronavirus package, warning it could be used to sideline inspectors general (IGs).

Grassley, in a letter to Trump, said he was "concerned" the White House document from March 27 could "negatively impact the ability of IGs to independently communicate with Congress."

"Read broadly, this interpretation could be cited as authority to unduly strip IGs of their fundamental ability to timely report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in government programs to Congress. Such authority is vital to their role in securing government transparency and efficiency, and is a critical role that all IGs routinely perform," Grassley wrote.

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"I urge you to reconsider the language in your signing statement and take steps to ensure that IGs are able to report effectively to Congress," he added. 

Trump issued a signing statement alongside the $2.2 trillion coronavirus package saying the law has "several provisions that raise constitutional concerns."

He specifically raised concerns about a provision requiring the inspector general for pandemic recovery to inform Congress if another department makes an unreasonable refusal to hand over information.

"I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required," Trump wrote, referring to the special inspector general for pandemic recovery.

The letter from Grassley — which was sent on Tuesday but publicly released Wednesday — is the latest break between Republican senators and Trump in recent weeks over the role of inspectors general.

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Grassley and a bipartisan group of senators sent Trump a letter earlier this month seeking more clarification over his reasoning for firing intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who handled the whistleblower complaint at the center of last year's House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

The senators noted they were asking for additional details to make sure there were "clear, substantial reasons" for Atkinson's removal.

GOP Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Tulsa to resume search for race massacre mass graves next week GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE (Okla.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention MORE (Ohio) sent Trump a separate letter this month urging him to change how he interacts with inspectors general.

"Recent statements and actions in the administration have raised concerns on Capitol Hill and among the IG community about the administration’s support for IGs and statutory authorities Congress has granted them," they wrote.

Grassley in his letter to Trump called the work of inspectors general "critical to Congress’s and the public’s ability to hold out-of-control bureaucrats accountable."

"IGs can help drain the swamp. They find the waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs and they find ways to save taxpayer money. In this effort they publish and publicize reports written to summarize their audits and investigations," Grassley wrote.

"In crafting those reports, IGs rely on timely and accurate access to agency information. Without that, they will not be effective. And watchdogs that can’t bark are only good for sitting on the front porch," he added.