Tester calls Trump’s removal of stimulus watchdog a “thumb in the eye” of taxpayers

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday expressed dismay over President Donald Trump’s removal of the lead watchdog charged with overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus fund, calling it a “thumb in the eye” of taxpayers.

Tester had partnered with Sen. Mitt Romney in urging the Trump administration to ensure independent oversight of the virus relief. The stimulus bill was the largest ever passed, and a bipartisan agreement ensured it included transparency and accountability.

But on Tuesday, Trump removed Glenn Fine, the lead watchdog who had just been appointed to the role, calling him an Obama-era leftover. Fine was actually confirmed by the Senate as an inspector general in 2000, during the Bush administration.

“This move is a thumb in the eye to any Montana taxpayer who stands to receive critically-needed financial relief from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus recovery package,” Tester said in a statement. “The job of the special watchdog is to ensure that money is spent responsibly and transparently — landing in the pockets of the small businesses, workers and families that need it. I’m extremely troubled by the abrupt removal of the nonpartisan public servant charged with that oversight.”

Tester wasn’t alone in voicing disagreement with Trump’s decision. In a Tweet, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassly, a Republican, encouraged Trump to view inspector generals as helpers to hold bureaucracy accountable and “drain the swamp.”

“We all work to solve problems especially in unprecedented times,” Grassly wrote. “IG reports should be viewed as a to do list and not criticism.”

But it was Democrats who offered the sharpest criticism. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it was deeply alarming that Trump was “playing politics with the oversight of the $2 trillion that Congress appropriated to address this crisis.”

“President Trump must not treat the coronavirus crisis with the same corruption, cronyism, and cover-ups that have characterized his presidency,” he said in a statement. “Doing so will only hamper the bipartisan effort to help combat coronavirus and get our economy back up and running faster.”