“Almost all of our government systems are under such strain now. We have a heightened danger: first, of fraud and waste in terms of how many millions of dollars are being spent, plus, the potential abuse of power,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
“When you have enhanced government authority like restricting people’s travels, you want to make sure people’s civil liberties are not being violated,” she said. “All of these are dangerous positions for inspector generals to take if they are worried about getting fired.”
Trump showed little inclination on Saturday to disguise his motive for firing Atkinson, whom he said did a “terrible job, absolutely terrible.”
“He took a whistle-blower report which turned out to be a fake report. It was fake. It was totally wrong,” Trump said, though subsequent revelations confirmed the accuracy of the whistleblower’s complaint — which sparked a months-long drive to impeachment — in exquisite detail.
“Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you,” the president added, during a press briefing otherwise devoted to the administration’s struggle to combat the outbreak.
In the weeks since the coronavirus first hit the U.S., Trump has continued to pursue pet projects dating back to his 2016 campaign such as rolling back Obama-era regulations, building the border wall and fighting with the Federal Reserve. A new White House personnel director, 29-year-old Johnny McEntee, has meanwhile been hunting for political appointees who have shown any hint of disloyalty to Trump and ordering them transferred or fired.
This week, as the outbreak approached what the president warned could soon reach a “horrific” crescendo of daily deaths, Trump canned Atkinson and tapped a White House aide from the counsel’s office as the new coronavirus relief inspector general, who will oversee the distribution of $500 billion in economic relief to businesses.
Democrats have questioned the independence of a coronavirus inspector general culled from the ranks of the White House staff, even if the lawyer, Brian Miller, also once served as the inspector general of the General Services Administration for 10 years, starting during President George W. Bush’s administration.
Trump’s administration has also weakened government standards for auto emissions since the coronavirus emerged, rolling back a major policy from the Obama-era intended to fight climate change – while continuing to construct the controversial Keystone pipeline. The building of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico has proceeded apace in Arizona, even as millions of Americans stay home to prevent the spread of the virus.