Trump equates oversight on coronavirus aid with 'witch hunt'

The president wants to spend $2.2 trillion, and he'd prefer it if Congress didn't ask a lot of questions.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP
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By Steve Benen

When lawmakers were recently negotiating the terms of the $2.2 trillion economic aid package, there was a brief delay based on one concern: oversight. There was a $500 billion "corporate rescue fund," and congressional Democrats were concerned about layers of accountability.

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."

For some reason, Democratic leaders didn't find that persuasive, agreeing instead to have an inspector general with auditing power oversee the investments. Trump, true to form, issued a signing statement late last week, suggesting he had the authority to limit what the inspector general could share with Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded yesterday by announcing the creation of a new House select committee that will, among other things, oversee the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. "Where there's money, there's also frequently mischief," Pelosi said yesterday announcing the creation of the bipartisan panel.

The fact that Trump complained soon after wasn't surprising, but I was struck by the nature of his complaints.

"Endless partisan investigations -- here we go again -- have already done extraordinary damage to our country in recent years. You see what happens. It's a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt. And in the end, the people doing the witch hunt have been losing and they been losing by a lot. And it's not any time for witch hunt, it's time to get this enemy defeated. Conducting these partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic is really big waste of vital resources, time, attention, and we want to fight for American lives, not waste time and build of my poll numbers, because that's all they're doing because everyone knows it's ridiculous."

There's quite a bit wrong with this, but let's not miss the forest for the trees: the president wants to spend $2.2 trillion, and he'd prefer it if Congress didn't ask a lot of questions. Indeed, Trump's comments yesterday reinforce the impression that he sees oversight as an inherently annoying burden he shouldn't have to deal with.

Meanwhile, around the time that the president was condemning "endless partisan investigations" and political "witch hunts" that detract from the pandemic response, Politico reported, "A key Senate committee is vowing to press forward with its investigation targeting former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter, despite logistical challenges posed by the global coronavirus pandemic."

The committee in question is the Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who recently shared an unusual perspective about the coronavirus crisis.