The president’s moves late Friday night underscore the vital role inspectors general play as agencies grapple with pandemic response and unprecedented federal spending.
President Trump late Friday shook up the federal inspector general community by firing one of its stalwarts and announcing his intention to nominate five new IGs, including one to oversee the government’s pandemic response.
Trump notified Congress late Friday night that he was removing Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson from his position within 30 days. Atkinson drew White House condemnation after he alerted Congress last September—as required by law—to the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment.
In his letter to Congress, obtained by the Washington Post, Trump wrote: “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
Michael Horowitz, chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Justice Department IG, blasted the move in a statement early Saturday:
“Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight. That includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done 'by the book' and consistent with the law.”
After Atkinson's firing, Thomas Monheim, a career intelligence officer, now serves as acting Intelligence Community IG.
Additionally, the White House said Trump would nominate Peter Thomson to become inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency. Thomson is currently an attorney at Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, LLC, in New Orleans where he co-chairs the firm’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Information Security Practices, according to the announcement.
According to the firm's website: "Our knowledge of the white collar criminal defense practice can assist individuals and businesses targeted by government investigations, including those charged with securities fraud, mail or wire fraud, money laundering, Medicaid or Medicare fraud, or federal or state Racketeering in Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes."
Pandemic Spending Oversight
Also late Friday night, Trump announced his intention to tap Brian Miller, currently Special Assistant to the President and Senior Associate Counsel in the Office of White House Counsel, for the job of Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery at the Treasury Department. The new position was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and is one of several mechanisms designed to ensure taxpayers are not fleeced as agencies implement the largest spending bill in history.
But when Trump signed the CARES Act on March 27, he issued a signing statement specifically objecting to the creation of a special IG for pandemic recovery at Treasury empowered to request information from other agencies and report to Congress any delays in receiving that information: “I do not understand, and my administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause, Article II, section 3,” the signing statement said.
Michael Thorning, associate director of governance at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Trump's position "undermines the independence and integrity of this new office and Congress’ ability to conduct oversight at a time when the public deserves independent reviews of how this $2 trillion is spent," in a Friday op-ed for Government Executive.
While Miller has related prior IG experience—he served for nearly 10 years as the General Services Administration’s Senate-confirmed watchdog where he oversaw a string of high profile waste and fraud investigations—he will face considerable scrutiny in Congress in the new role if he is confirmed by the Senate.
Other IGs also will be watching. Horowitz stressed the importance of the pandemic oversight role in his statement:
“The Inspector General Community will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee. This includes CIGIE’s Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and its efforts on behalf of American taxpayers, families, businesses, patients, and health care providers to ensure that over $2 trillion dollars in emergency federal spending is being used consistently with the law’s mandate.”
In addition to Thompson and Miller, Trump also announced his intention to nominate three other officials for IG roles:
- Jason Abend to be Defense Department IG. Abend currently serves as senior policy advisor at Customs and Border Protection.
- Andrew De Mello to be Education Department IG. De Mello currently serves as a Justice Department trial attorney for the Tax Division He has been on detail to the Homeland Security Department IG’s office as a senior special counsel since October 2019.
- Katherine Crytzer to be Tennessee Valley Authority IG. Crytzer currently serves as the Justice Department’s acting deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy.
Correction: President Trump announced he would nominate Peter Thompson to become the CIA IG, not Atkinson's replacement as initially reported.