First it was the purge of officials who testified honestly in President Donald Trump's impeachment hearings. Last week, it was the inspector general who conveyed to Congress the whistleblower's report about Trump attempting to extort political help from Ukraine. This week, it was another inspector general who was supposed to monitor how the White House disburses pandemic emergency funding. Now he's angling against yet another inspector general for looking into the administration's botched pandemic response.
If Trump were stealthily dodging proper oversight of his activities, it would be less disturbing than this open nose-thumbing at accountability by unceremoniously removing anyone who shines the slightest unfavorable light on what he's doing — even when such scrutiny is in the person's job description and a lawfully sworn duty.
America employs more than 70 inspectors general throughout the federal government, part of a system created after Watergate to provide independent oversight of all federal officials, including the president. Trump's contempt for that check on his power has always been obvious, but lately he's been acting on it like never before.
Last week, Trump fired Intelligence Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who last year informed Congress about the whistleblower's complaint regarding Trump's threat to suspend military aid to get Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Subsequent investigations led to Trump's impeachment. Trump didn't even bother to concoct a legitimate excuse for Atkinson's firing, asserting only that he gave "a fake report" to Congress. In fact, Trump's guilt was clearly proven in the ensuing impeachment hearing, but that's beside the point: Atkinson's job was to convey such whistleblower allegations to Congress.
On Tuesday, Trump effectively demoted Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, disqualifying him from a prospective new role scrutinizing $2.2 trillion in spending to recover from the current pandemic. Upon signing the law approving that spending, Trump announced he wasn't going to allow the independent monitoring of how the administration disburses the funds, even though that oversight was specified in the law. That was one promise Trump wasted no time in keeping.
Trump this week has also been publicly slamming Christi Grimm, inspector general for Health and Human Services, after her office reported on coronavirus testing and supply delays to hospitals. "Another Fake Dossier!" Trump tweeted. It's not difficult to see where this is going.
If a mayor were stopped for speeding, and responded by angrily firing the cop — doing it in front of the whole city and not hiding the reason why — no one would stand for it. Yet Trump has committed an infinitely more serious version of that kind of abuse of power multiple times, with no consequences.
Most of his Republican defenders, including Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, maintain their usual, shameful silence. Trump will continue to test the limits on his autocratic impulses until that silence ends.
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