As the nation has been focused on fighting coronavirus, President Donald Trump has continued his attacks on internal government oversight – gutting his administration of independent government watchdogs he sees as disloyal to him.
Over the past month, Trump has replaced or removed inspectors general from his administration he sees as Obama-holdovers or as part of the so-called “deep state” he believes is working against him.
An IG for any given government agency conducts investigations and audits into any potential malfeasance, fraud, waste, or abuse by that agency or its personnel, and issues reports and recommendations on its findings. An IG office is intended to operate independently.
Trump has removed the inspectors general by providing the reason that it’s within his authority as President and that he lacks confidence in that IG. But Democrats argue that the series of dismissals is a pattern of retaliation by Trump and an intimidation tactic against those attempting to hold government accountable.
The IG dismissals have also raised concerns among some Republicans who say that a more detailed, written reason must be provided to Congress when IGs are removed for lack of confidence.
Here are the inspectors general who have recently been booted out of office or removed from the top role.
Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson
Late on Friday, April 3, Trump announced he would be firing Atkinson from his role as intelligence community watchdog. Atkinson, a career official, had been appointed to the position by Trump in 2018.
Atkinson was ousted from the job after playing a role in the President’s impeachment.
He had alerted lawmakers to the now-known whistleblower complaint, which alleged that Trump had sought dirt on his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, from Ukraine’s president while withholding US security aid from Kiev.
The allegation kicked off a House impeachment inquiry that led to Trump’s impeachment in December on two articles. The Senate acquitted Trump on both charges in February.
Atkinson stood by his conclusion that the complaint raised concerns that had to be handed over to Congress in accordance with the law, though that determination put him at odds with his boss, then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
Trump defended the firing, claiming that Atkinson “took a fake report and gave it to Congress.”
Acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine
Within a week of Atkinson’s firing, Trump decided to remove Fine from his post as acting IG for the Defense Department.
Trump’s decision meant that Fine would no longer chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee tasked with overseeing $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funding.
Fine, a career official, was replaced as acting IG with Sean O’Donnell, who is also the Environmental Protection Agency IG. Trump had announced his pick, Jason Abend, a policy adviser for Customs and Border Protection, to permanently fill the role.
A spokeswoman with the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General did not explain to CNN why Fine was removed from the leading role, but said that Fine would revert to his position as the No. 2 official in the IG office.
Acting Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm
Christi Grimm, who was filling the top role of IG in an acting capacity, became the target of the President’s ire after she signed off on a March OIG report that described a dire situation for frontline doctors and medical staff.
The report found that the nation’s hospitals are dealing with “severe” and “widespread” shortages of needed testing supplies and personal protective equipment, hampering their ability to test and respond to the coronavirus pandemic adequately and protect medical staff.
During a April 6 press briefing, Trump dismissed the report as “wrong” and questioned whether politics tinged the findings. He attacked Grimm as an Obama appointee, despite Grimm having served in HHS programs for more than two decades in both Democratic and Republican administrations.
On May 2, the President announced he would be nominating Jason Weida, an assistant US attorney in Boston, to be watchdog for HHS, while Grimm returned to her job as principal deputy IG.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick
In a letter sent on May 15, Trump announced he would be removing Linick from office because he “no longer” has the “fullest confidence” in him. The President’s letter stated that the dismissal is effective in 30 days. Again, the firing came late on a Friday night.
Shortly after Linick’s firing was announced, Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had learned Linick’s office had opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But Engel did not go into further detail about the scope of the investigation.
Linick became State Department IG in 2013 after being nominated by Obama. Prior to that, Linick had served in the Justice Department in the Bush administration and was originally nominated by the former Republican president to be the first IG of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
During Trump’s administration, Linick had issued two damning reports about the State Department – one report from August that found employees were subjected to “disrespectful and hostile treatment” and another report from November that found Trump political appointees within the department had improperly retaliated against a career civil servant.
Linick also played a small role in the impeachment inquiry, giving a private briefing to bipartisan staff from eight House and Senate committees and providing them with State Department documents received from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
In doing so, Linick broke ranks with State Department leadership who had stonewalled the House impeachment inquiry.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed to CNN that Ambassador Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence, will take on the role of IG.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Zachary Cohen, Jason Hoffman, Marshall Cohen, Manu Raju, Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood, Vivian Salama, Priscilla Alvarez and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.