When the $2.2 trillion economic aid package took shape a few weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans initially struggled to agree on oversight. Lawmakers were broadly comfortable, for example, with the $500 billion "corporate rescue fund," but the Trump administration initially envisioned a system in which there were few, if any, layers of accountability.
When Democrats balked, Donald Trump told reporters he had a solution in mind. "Well, look, I'll be the oversight," the president said. "I'll be the oversight."
When that didn't prove persuasive either, negotiators agreed to a series of measures -- none of which the president seemed to like. For example, the parties agreed to have an inspector general with auditing power oversee the investments, only to have Trump issue a signing statement, suggesting he had the authority to limit what the inspector general could share with Congress.
It was not the only sign of trouble. A week later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the creation of a new House select committee to oversee CARES Act spending, prompting the president to throw a fit. As we discussed, Trump acted as if he wants to spend $2.2 trillion, and he'd prefer it if Congress didn't ask a lot of questions.
But it's not just Congress. On Friday, the administration announced that Brian Miller, one of the president's White House lawyers, would serve as the inspector general overseeing the Treasury Department's implementation of the corporate rescue fund. Naturally, this led to questions about independence -- questions that grew louder as Miller's record of hostility toward congressional oversight came into sharper focus.
Yesterday afternoon, as NBC News reported, the president went even further.
President Donald Trump has removed a top Pentagon official leading the committee tasked with overseeing implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus law, putting his own pick in place. Trump is replacing Glenn Fine, acting inspector general of the Defense Department, whom a panel of inspectors general had named to lead the oversight committee, with Sean O'Donnell, inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's worth clarifying that Trump technically didn't fire Fine as executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) made up of inspectors general. As the Washington Post noted, the president instead replaced Fine at the Pentagon, "which, under the applicable law, disqualified him from the PRAC."
The end result, of course, is the same. The goal was to replace a respected, independent voice.
An Associated Press report added, "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."
Quite right. Indeed, that appears to be the point.
At least for now, it's difficult to say with confidence exactly why Trump is so hostile toward oversight of the $2.2 trillion package. Maybe it's the result of a political reflex we've seen from the Republican before; maybe he has some mischief in mind; maybe he intends to direct funds to his own private-sector enterprise and would prefer that no one find out.
Whatever the motivation, recent history tells us that when Donald Trump acts like he has something to hide, it's probably because he has something to hide. He once billed himself as "the most transparent president in history," which was ridiculous at the time, and even more cringe-worthy now.