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Blumenthal Asks Pence to Respond to Unanswered Questions on Efforts to Thwart Independent Oversight of Trump Administration COVID-19 Response

On Friday, Blumenthal announced a comprehensive framework laying out transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption provisions for next Congressional covid-19 response package

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote Vice President Mike Pence today seeking a response to an unanswered question Blumenthal posed to Pence several weeks ago regarding independent oversight of COVID-19 pandemic relief. During a conversation in April, Blumenthal asked Pence “commit to informing Congress any time that the executive branch denies information requested by the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) or the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) and that you commit to supporting for-cause removal protections for inspectors general.” Pence was unable to provide an answer on the call, but committed to providing Blumenthal with a response. He has so far failed to do so.

Blumenthal’s questions followed the firing of Acting Defense Department IG Glenn Fine shortly after he was appointed to lead PRAC, in “a particularly egregious example of the President’s modus operandi when it comes to inspectors general.” Over the weekend, President Trump announced the removal of Christi Grimm, the Acting IG for the Department of Health and Human Services after her office released recent report detailing shortages of testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) amidst the growing pandemic.

“This pattern of behavior is dangerous during the best of times. But the stakes for our country right now are simply too high for this state of affairs to continue. Our lives are on the line. Without strong, independent oversight of the vital emergency funds that Congress has provided, we may not know about waste, fraud, and abuse in these programs until it is far too late,” Blumenthal wrote.

On Friday, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) were joined by U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD), Chair of the House Democracy Reform Task Force, in announcing a comprehensive framework of oversight, accountability, and anti-corruption provisions to be included in the next Congressional COVID-19 response package.

The proposal includes increased protections for inspectors general (IGs), who should be fired only for good cause, and Acting IGs, who must be selected from officials who enjoy civil service protections, ensuring that they have some recourse if they face retaliation. The President’s decision to fire or otherwise discipline an IG or Acting IG should trigger an automatic review by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency Integrity Committee, and the findings of that review should be made public. Read more about this proposal here.

The framework also included several provisions to increase transparency and empower Congressional oversight, including a requirement that the Treasury Secretary submit a weekly list of any instances in which the SIGPR or the PRAC believe they have been unreasonably denied information from the executive branch. If the Treasury Secretary omits or misrepresents instances of wrongdoing to Congress, he should be liable for perjury and prosecuted by the Department of Justice. If the Treasury Secretary fails to provide a required filing, Congress should use its power of the purse to ensure that neither he nor any other senior political appointee in the Department of Treasury be paid. Read more about this proposal here.

Read the full details of the proposal here.

The full text of Blumenthal’s letter is available here.