Top House Democrats ask inspectors general group for proposals to protect watchdogs

Top House Democrats ask inspectors general group for proposals to protect watchdogs
© Greg Nash

In a show of force, more than 20 House lawmakers chairing committees condemned President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE’s recent treatment of federal watchdogs. 

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump commutes Roger Stone's sentence New York candidates left on hold as primary results trickle in MORE (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, led 22 other top Democrats in asking Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz for input on legislation after two inspector general were removed and one was publicly berated by Trump.

Horowitz chairs the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), a group that includes watchdogs across federal agencies.

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“Unlike any President in modern history, President Trump has engaged in offensive and unjustified attacks against Inspectors General, criticizing them for following the law, and retaliating against them for telling the truth,” the chairs wrote in a Friday letter to Horowitz.

Their letter points to several recent shakeups with inspectors general, including Trump's sudden decision to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson on Friday, his removal of the top inspector general who was recently assigned to oversee the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, and the president's attacks against a watchdog at Health and Human Services (HHS).

Trump received fierce blowback from Democrats and Republicans alike over his decision to fire Atkinson, in what is widely believed to be retribution for his handling of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that led to the House impeachment inquiry.

"There is no credible allegation that Mr. Atkinson failed to perform his duties properly, failed to take any required action, or took any action that might bring discredit on his office," the lawmakers wrote, noting that Trump did not give Congress the required 30-day notification of plans to remove an inspector general.

Atkinson deemed the complaint, which raised allegations that Trump was pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political foe, as both credible and urgent, a conclusion that triggered a process for the complaint to be disclosed to Congress. He has also said he believes he was fired for this decision. 

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The Democrats said they now are considering legislation that would restrict the removals of IGs to a list of certain "good cause" conditions.

"We are seeking input directly from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency on legislative and other proposals to increase your independence and protect you from retaliation, including but not limited to allowing for the removal of top Inspector General officials only for good cause," the letter states.

Trump also abruptly removed and replaced acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who just a week before was selected by peers on the CIGIE to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, tasked with overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The White House has not given a reason for the change.

The lawmakers also noted Trump's public berating of Christi Grimm, the HHS watchdog, after her office released a report that found “severe” shortages of coronavirus tests for hospitals and “widespread” shortfalls of protective equipment designed to protect health workers.

“Each one of these actions by the President would raise significant concerns by itself,” they wrote. “Together, they reflect a campaign of political retaliation and reward that is antithetical to good government, undermine the proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars, and degrade the federal government’s ability to function competently.”

The letter was signed by a list of powerful House Democrats including Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday shows - Spotlight shifts to reopening schools Schiff: 'Anyone who cares about the rule of law in this country is nauseated' by Stone sentence commutation Many Democrats want John Bolton's testimony, but Pelosi stays mum MORE (Calif.), Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' Nadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November MORE (N.Y.), Appropriations Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse Democrats push for resuming aid to Palestinians in spending bill House panel approves bill funding WHO, paring back abortion restrictions Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending MORE (N.Y.) and Armed Services Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (Wash.).