Trump’s Nominee for Pandemic Recovery IG Draws Mixed Reviews Following Confirmation Hearing
Brian Miller is currently special assistant and senior associate counsel in the Office of White House Counsel.
Experts had mixed reactions to the congressional testimony on Tuesday of the White House lawyer President Trump nominated for Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, a position established by Congress in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to make sure public funds are not misspent.
Despite the president’s initial assertion that he personally would oversee the unprecedented spending ushered in by the CARES Act, on April 3 Trump tapped Brian Miller, special assistant and senior associate counsel in the Office of White House Counsel, to fill the critical new watchdog role at the Treasury Department. Miller has held a number of high-level positions in government since 1992. He served for nearly a decade as inspector general at the General Services Administration, and held senior positions at the Justice Department, including assistant U.S. attorney general, senior counsel to deputy attorney general, and special counsel on healthcare fraud, among others. He’s been working for the White House since December 2018 and is most recently known for denying the Government Accountability Office’s request for information during its investigation of the administration’s handling of Ukraine aid, which led to the impeachment investigation.
Miller tried to assuage lawmakers’ concerns about his close ties to the White House in his remarks before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. If confirmed, he said he would not seek approval from the president before speaking with Congress and he would “conduct every audit and investigation with fairness and impartiality.”
Miller declined to say if he had any role in the president’s firing of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson in April due to Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment hearings. He also would not say if he agreed with the president that Atkinson is a “total disgrace.”
Based on his previous experience as an IG, Miller said that IGs “always face the possibility that they may be fired [because] they serve at the pleasure of the president.”
Lawmakers asked Miller for his views on the signing statement Trump issued when he signed the CARES Act on March 27 objecting to some of the law’s oversight provisions, including the creation of the IG position Miller has been tapped to fill. “I am trying to avoid stepping in between battles between the executive branch and the legislative branch,” Miller said. “I will tell you that I will follow the law, section four of the [1978 Inspector General Act] that requires me to report serious problems and to make reports to Congress.”
His testimony garnered mixed reactions from oversight experts.
“Miller indicated that he understands the importance of inspector general independence and would go about his work as he sees fit, regardless of any pressure from White House or agency officials,” said Tim Stretton, policy analyst at the watchdog group Project On Government Oversight. “I hope that if he's confirmed to the position, he stays true to his words and conducts dogged, independent oversight of the COVID-19 relief spending.”
Another watchdog group, Accountable.US, took a harsher stance.
“All Mr. Miller showed today is that he will say anything to be confirmed. The Pandemic Inspector General needs to be a fierce advocate on behalf of the American people, making sure their money is used responsibly by an administration with a history of using it to their own benefit,” Accountable.US Spokesman Derek Martin told Government Executive. “We remain highly skeptical that a Trump loyalist would ever stand up to a president obsessed with undermining independent oversight. As a member of the president’s own legal team, Mr. Miller is guaranteed to be more lapdog than watchdog.”
Similarly, Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, tweeted on Tuesday that Miller’s current role “raises serious questions about his independence and is the latest example of Trump throwing roadblocks in the way of real oversight.”
Democrats also were skeptical of Miller. Ahead of the hearing on Monday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent him an 11-page letter outlining questions about his work in the White House and his views on oversight, among other things.
Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said senators may submit additional questions for the record until May 7 and asked Miller to respond by May 11.