Trump’s attacks on independent oversight tell you all you need to know about his priorities

Photo of President Donald Trump by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

President Donald Trump’s twin dismissals, just days apart, of two, highly respected government watchdogs, and an attack on still another, is a reminder of a fundamental truth:

When it comes to making the key policy and political decisions that affect us all, Trump is guided by his own political self-preservation, not the well-being of the entire nation.

To review, on Friday, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, claiming he had lacked “the fullest confidence,” in the respected government lawyer. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes, Atkinson said he got the sack for supporting the whistleblower who’s charges ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment by the U.S. House.

On Tuesday, days after he’d accepted the position, Trump removed Glenn Fine from his post as the executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which has been charged with overseeing the disbursement of the $2 trillion in taxpayer money authorized by the most recent COVID-19 relief bill.

That removal comes despite the fact that, as the Washington Post reports Trump, however begrudgingly, had agreed to rigorous oversight, across government, for the historic spending package, which itself was the product of laborious bipartisan negotiations.

And this week, during his daily briefing/campaign rally, Trump attacked Christi Grimm, the deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, who was the main author of a report concluding that hospitals nationwide are enduring severe shortages of testing supplies and personal protective equipment.

“Hospitals reported that their most significant challenges centered on testing and caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19 and keeping staff safe,” the report’s key takeaway reads. “Hospitals also reported substantial challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19. Hospitals described specific challenges, mitigation strategies, and needs for assistance related to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, staffing, supplies and durable equipment; maintaining or expanding facility capacity; and financial concerns.”

That shouldn’t have been news to anyone who’s paying even a modicum of attention to the headlines, which are replete with stories about first responders scrapping to find supplies, and physicians, lacking personal protective equipment, instead wrapping themselves in trash bags and using the same mask over and over again as they try to bring the pandemic to heel.

Defying what most Americans can see with their own eyes, Trump concluded that this mountain of evidence collected from more than 300 hospitals in 46 states “could be [Grimm’s] opinion,” the Post reported. In a Tweet Tuesday, he dismissed the report as “another fake dossier.” 

From courts to the intelligence community, and now HHS, Trump’s hostility to government institutions is already well-established.

He’s spent the last three years seeking to undermine institutions across the federal government, dismissing competent and experienced apolitical professionals, and replacing them with his own core of yes men. Such is the case with the intelligence community, which is now overseen by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a White House loyalist, Ignatius observed.

And if there is one area where there is cause for concern above all else, it’s in who’s overseeing the transparent and accountable disbursement of funds in the historic pandemic relief package. And there, too, Trump has tapped someone with ties to the White House as a replacement.

The president has already rewarded cronies with posts at the highest levels of government. There’s every reason to believe he’ll act with equal disregard when it comes to doling out pots of federal money.

Will he punish critical governors, such as Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, and reward Republican state executives, such as Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis? With the guard rails off, who can tell?

If there is one thing that authoritarians try to do, it’s to bend truth to their own will; to replace objective fact with a narrative that favors the Dear Leader. From briefings that are quivering dangerously toward becoming the 21st Century equivalent of the Vietnam era’s 5 O’Clock Follies, to removing anyone who dares speak truth to power, Trump is already well down that road.

The Swamp just keeps getting deeper.

John L. Micek
John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.