A top internal watchdog at the Pentagon, Glenn Fine, submitted his resignation Tuesday, more than a month after President Donald Trump effectively removed him as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a group of independent watchdogs tasked with overseeing $2 trillion in emergency coronavirus funding.
One Pentagon official told CNN that Glenn Fine, the Defense Department’s principal deputy inspector general, was not told to resign and did so on his own accord. Still, Trump replaced Fine as the Pentagon’s acting inspector general last month rather than allowing him to remain in the job until a nominee for the permanent role was confirmed, a move that was viewed as an effort to thwart his leadership of the coronavirus accountability review.
Fine’s resignation takes effect June 1st, according to DOD IG spokesperson Dwrena Allen.
“It has been an honor to serve in the Inspector General community, both as the Inspector General of the Department of Justice and the DoD Acting Inspector General and Principal Deputy Inspector General performing the duties of the DoD Inspector General,” Fine said in a statement. “The role of Inspectors General is a strength of our system of government. They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way.”
“They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system. After many years in the DoJ and DoD OIGs, I believe the time has come for me to step down and allow others to perform this vital role. I wish the men and women of the DoD OIG and the Inspector General Community continued success in these important responsibilities,” he added.
Mattis calls resignation ‘regrettable’
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis praised Fine and said his resignation was “regrettable” in a statement to CNN.
“It’s regrettable seeing such a highly competent, non-partisan patriot and public servant leaving government service. Mr. Glenn Fine represents all that is noble in taking on the hard work of keeping government honest and responsive. He will be missed,” Mattis said.
Fine’s resignation comes after Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick earlier this month, the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs that have come in the wake of the President’s acquittal on articles of impeachment.
Trump has now removed or pushed out multiple inspectors general following his Senate acquittal in early February, including the late-Friday dismissal of the intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson, who told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that kick-started the impeachment process.
CNN has also previously reported that the President has long been fixated on ridding his administration of government watchdogs he views as Obama loyalists and now appears to be working toward achieving that goal.
The sequence of events reflects Trump’s dim view of government oversight, particularly when it presents inconvenient facts. For Trump, who expects loyalty from all corners of his administration, the work of IG offices are a feature of what he often derides as the “deep state” – a politically motivated permanent bureaucracy designed to undermine him.
Several sources previously told CNN that Trump has long sought to remove Fine, a career official, viewing him as a holdover from the Obama administration. That effort escalated after Fine was selected by his peers to chair the pandemic response oversight panel tasked with preventing “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the use of coronavirus relief money.
But after he was removed as acting DoD IG and effectively demoted to the deputy role in which he had previously served, Fine could no longer chair the pandemic oversight committee as that position is limited to inspectors general or acting inspectors general.
At the time, a Defense Department spokeswoman did not explain why Fine was removed from the acting inspector general position, but she did explain that it meant he was no longer eligible to stay on the accountability committee.
Trump resisted oversight
In fact, much of the oversight apparatus in the relief package was a concession by Trump, who resisted Democratic efforts to create the commission and then waved away any true authority it holds with a signing statement attached to the bill.
“My Administration will treat this provision as hortatory but not mandatory,” the President wrote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last month that the removal of Fine was a “problem” and a sign the President was seeking to put “some of his loyalists” in charge of overseeing how the relief money is spent.
“This is really a problem,” she said, adding that Trump believes he can exercise his own oversight over the implementation of the stimulus package and is “sending in some of his loyalists.”
Many in the IG and whistleblower community believe those career officials on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee are most at risk, including DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, who also heads the panel of IGs with the authority to pick the chair of that committee.
While Horowitz remains in his role, current and former officials caution that, as with any decision Trump makes, that could change with a single tweet. The fact that Horowitz has published sharply critical investigations into the FBI’s handling of politically sensitive probes of Hillary Clinton and the President’s campaign may help protect him, congressional sources and Justice Department officials tell CNN.
Horowitz has won high marks from key lawmakers including Grassley and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and he also has a good relationship with Attorney General William Barr, officials note.
CNN’s Vivian Salama contributed to this report.