Coronavirus: Schiff worries Trump will ‘reward his own businesses’ during pandemic response

President has removed two inspectors general in April and clashed with a third

Griffin Connolly
Sunday 12 April 2020 16:33 BST
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Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has expressed concern that, without proper oversight, Donald Trump could use the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic to enrich his own companies.

"In the absence of oversight, you can pretty much guarantee you're going to get corruption and competence and malfeasance," Mr Schiff, House Democrats' lead impeachment investigator last year, said in an interview with MSNBC on Sunday.

"The more that [the president] is neutering the inspector generals ... increases the risk that Donald Trump uses this money to reward his own businesses or businesses of allies and punishes companies that are run by people he doesn't like or won't praise him," Mr Schiff said.

The $2.2trn economic stimulus package that became law in March contains a clause prohibiting businesses owned by the president, federal lawmakers, and other US officials to access federal aid programmes.

And Mr Trump cannot unilaterally dissolve the oversight bodies that are intended to act as a check on his White House team's coronavirus response and other aspects of his administration.

But he can shake up the leadership of some of those oversight bodies — steps he has already taken.

Earlier this month, Mr Trump removed two high-profile inspectors general: Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and Acting Defense Department IG Glenn Fine.

Mr Atkinson is the IG who forwarded a whistleblower complaint to Mr Schiff's congressional intelligence panel last year that initially outlined to the president's Ukraine controversy and ultimately led to his impeachment.

Before Mr Fine's demotion last Tuesday, he had been pegged to lead the watchdog panel of inspectors general charged with overseeing how the White House spent trillions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief. He was replaced by Sean O’Donnell, the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency who will be leading both IG offices for the time being.

Also last week, Mr Trump criticized Health and Human Services Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm for compiling and publishing a report that warned hospitals were confronting a shortage of medical and personal protective equipment and testing delays.

Mr Trump claimed the HHS report was politically motivated and "wrong." The report was based on interviews with officials from 323 hospitals and health systems conducted between 23 and 27 March.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have begun taking steps of their own to provide oversight over the administration's coronavirus response.

Mr Schiff introduced a bill on Friday that would establish a nonpartisan independent commission to probe and assess the federal government's response to the pandemic, in the mould of a similarly nonpartisan commission formed after the 9/11 attacks.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have begun discussions on who will chair a five-person joint Congressional Oversight Commission ratified under the so-called CARES Act, the $2.2trn coronavirus aid package from March, Politico reported.

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