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Trump removes watchdog who was to lead oversight on $2.2T stimulus package

ERIC TUCKER, MATTHEW DALY and MARY CLARE JALONICK
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has removed the inspector general who was tapped to chair a special oversight board of the $2.2 trillion economic package intended to help businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.

Glenn Fine, the acting Defense Department inspector general and a veteran watchdog, had been selected by peers last month for the position. Now it's unclear who will oversee the rescue law.

The move threatens to upend the rigorous oversight that Democrats in Congress had demanded of the huge sums of money being pumped into the American economy because of the virus.

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"The president now has engaged in a series of actions designed to neuter any kind of oversight of his actions and that of the administration during a time of national crisis, when trillions of dollars are being allocated to help the American people," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California told The Associated Press.

The action follows Trump's late-night firing  on Friday of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who forwarded to Congress a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president's impeachment, as well as Trump's public condemnation of the acting Health and Human Services watchdog over a survey of hospitals about the coronavirus response.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump has also bristled at the oversight of the coronavirus law, suggesting in a statement last month that some of the mandates from Congress are unconstitutional.

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general and chair of a council of watchdogs, had moved quickly last month to appoint Fine the head of the new coronavirus oversight board. 

But Fine will not longer be able to serve in the role because Trump has nominated a replacement inspector general at the Pentagon and appointed an acting one to serve in Fine's place, according to an email from an assistant Defense Department inspector general that was obtained by The Associated Press.

The demotion disqualifies Fine from serving on the oversight board, which was created by Congress to be the nexus of oversight for coronavirus funding. He will instead revert to the position of principle deputy inspector general.