If the $2.2 trillion in stimulus money doesn’t save the national economy by buoying the businesses and people who need it most, it will be the most egregious waste of taxpayer-funded emergency relief in U.S. history.
If those dollars are distributed in darkness, it’ll be even worse: a political carrot-and-stick program that enriches Trump allies and hurts everyone else.
When the CARES Act passed, we had someone who could stop relief dollars landing in the pockets of profiteers and fraudsters, or the coffers of corporations more interested in stock buybacks than saving jobs and lives.
That was Glenn Fine, the independent inspector general assigned to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
A career official who served Republican and Democratic presidents, Fine was known for being honest, competent, tough and fair. His appointment was applauded on both sides of the aisle.
President Donald Trump ousted him in eight days.
It was no accident. At the signing of the CARES Act, Trump immediately indicated he had no intention of allowing oversight, and would gag the special inspector general.
“I’ll be the oversight,” he declared days earlier.
We’ve seen Trump’s idea of oversight before. He was fined $2 million for using his charitable foundation as a personal piggy bank. He was forced to pay $25 million to victims of his fraudulent university. He’s still hiding his tax returns.
Trump has spent 3½ years gutting systems of oversight and installing lackeys, so sidelining Fine might not seem shocking — but it should.
It should be particularly shocking in Colorado Springs, a city of professionals who value integrity and accountability, and know the chaos that would unfold if they dodged oversight in their own work.
The executive branch should not be held to a lower standard than ordinary citizens. In response to Nixon’s abuse of executive power in the Watergate scandal, Congress rightly established a system of independent oversight, along with the position of independent inspector general.
Now is not the time to remove those guardrails — not least of all because this administration has never demonstrated restraint, efficiency or integrity in the absence of oversight.
For evidence, we need only look to the Trump administration’s tragic mishandling of money and medical equipment throughout the pandemic.
Characterized by foot-dragging, favors, and Jared Kushner run amok, the federal response has seen frontline nurses wearing trash bags, test kits grandly promised but never delivered, and FEMA seizing critical equipment from states — including 500 ventilators ordered by Colorado.
After that seizure, and despite a plea for equipment from Gov. Jared Polis, Trump played politics, tweeting: “Will be immediately sending 100 Ventilators to Colorado at the request of Senator Gardner!”
The Paycheck Protection Program has already been emptied by giants like Ruth’s Chris Steak House snapping up money meant for small businesses. Ordinary Americans are struggling for unemployment benefits. Hedge fund managers have crowded the trough, and Trump has even refused to rule out accepting bailout benefits for his own hotels.
Without nonpartisan oversight, the relief program is just a slush fund for the president, his political allies and corporate friends.
An independent inspector general must police this stimulus bill. It’s the difference between letting businesses, jobs and lives collapse, or giving people a way to survive. But to Trump, oversight is a nuisance, and personal loyalty is currency. He’s swung the door wide for corruption and corporate greed, but it’s not too late to close it.
Since Sen. Cory Gardner seems to have the president’s ear — at least for now — he should demand the White House adhere to the principles of accountability and fiscal responsibility that Republicans claim to espouse. He should call for Fine’s immediate reinstatement, emphasizing that nonpartisan watchdogs are essential to democracy.
Gardner must make clear that Colorado values fairness and won’t engage in currying political favor; that playing politics with essential aid will destroy national unity — and cost lives.
It’s past time to push our elected officials to end the president’s assault on independent oversight.