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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 TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE’s recent treatment of federal watchdogs. 

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyWhat our kids should know after the Capitol Hill riot  House Democrats reintroduce bill to reduce lobbyist influence Trump administration misses census data deadline, eyes March handover to Congress 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 SchiffWhat our kids should know after the Capitol Hill riot  Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers Democrats, GOP face defining moments after Capitol riot MORE (Calif.), Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi names 9 impeachment managers Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment Clyburn blasts DeVos and Chao for 'running away' from 25th Amendment fight MORE (N.Y.), Appropriations Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency This week: Trump's grip on Hill allies faces test Trump signs .3T relief, spending package MORE (N.Y.) and Armed Services Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE (Wash.).