The chairs of the House Oversight and Transportation committees are planning to investigate President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump slams Fox after hydroxychloroquine warning: ‘Looking for a new outlet’Trump threatens permanent freeze on WHO funding without ‘major’ reforms within 30 daysSchumer: Trump’s statements on hydroxychloroquine ‘is reckless, reckless, reckless’MORE’s replacement of a top Transportation Department (DOT) watchdog, calling it “the latest in a series of politically motivated firings.”
The Democrats made the commitment in a letter sent to Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoLobbying worldOvernight Health Care: Pelosi floats almost T for states | US intel investigating COVID-19’s origins | Trump outlines efforts to protect nursing homesPence wears face mask during tour of General Motors plantMORE on Tuesday, saying they they are concerned the move may have been linked to an internal probe of the Cabinet member’s dealings with Kentucky.
The DOT on Friday named Howard Elliott, the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), as the agency’s acting inspector general, a position that had been filled by Mitch Behm, the agency’s deputy inspector general, since January.
The White House Counsel’s Office directed the move, CNN reported, citing an administration official. The move came the same day the president moved to replace State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, the latest in a series of top watchdogs ousted by the president.
“This assault on the integrity and independence of inspectors general appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse,” House Oversight Chair Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyThe Postal Service collapse that isn’t happeningBehind every gun law is a mom marching for her children House Democrats urge FDA to revise policy limiting gay, bisexual men from donating plasma MORE (D-N.Y.), Transportation Chair Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDonald Trump is proposing attacks on Social Security and seniors; here is what we should do insteadHouse committee investigating Carnival cruise line’s response to coronavirusDelta, American Airlines to mandate face coverings during US flightsMORE (D-Ore.) and Oversight Committee member Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyThe Postal Service collapse that isn’t happeningPostal Service to review package fee policy: reportBipartisan lawmakers call for Postal Service reliefMORE (D-Va.) wrote Tuesday. The lawmakers also sent a letter to Elliott echoing those concerns.
In their letter, the Democrats voiced demands for information regarding ongoing audits, inspections, investigations, evaluations, reviews or other engagements by June 1. They also asked for any communications regarding the removal of Behm and Elliott’s qualifications for the inspector general post.
They noted that the House Transportation panel in October asked the DOT watchdog to investigate Chao’s possible conflicts of interest, such as reports that she was giving preferential treatment to projects in Kentucky.
Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLegal immunity for businesses that are unsafe is a terrible ideaObama’s Trump attacks electrify Democrats, anger GOPTreasury secretary says he’ll work to extend loan period for PPPMORE (R-Ky.). Politico reported in June 2019 that an aide to Chao helped advise McConnell and local officials on grant applications in the state.
“We are concerned that Behms removal could be an effort to undermine the progress of this investigation, which we understand is ongoing,” the lawmakers wrote. “Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector Generals investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our committees.”
DOT maintained in a statement to The Hill that the House Democrats’ letter was “not factual” since Behm “was never designated the Acting IG.” The spokesperson added that Behm “continues to serve in his long-time role as deputy inspector general.”
The DOT Office of Inspector General’s website continues to list Behm as both deputy inspector general and acting inspector general. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
In response to the Democrats’ comments about Chao, the DOT spokesperson pointed to a previous statement from the department in regards to reports about Chao’s alleged conflicts of interest. DOT said in October that the allegations were a “politically motivated waste of time.”
Behm became the top Transportation Department watchdog in January after the former inspector general Calvin Scovell retired. His exit was the latest in a string of inspector general removals initiated by Trump in recent months.
Democrats argued that at a minimum Elliott should resign as PHMSA administrator and recuse himself from matters involving PHMSA or the secretary’s office if he stays on as acting IG.
The lawmakers argued that Elliott would “have an inherent conflict of interest” if he were reporting to the Transportation secretary while acting in a role required by law to be independent.
The DOT spokesperson said that Elliott would be expected to recuse himself from OIG audits or investigations of PHMSA.
Trump in early April removed intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who had been tasked with overseeing the management of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.
The president’s move to remove Linick, the IG of the State Department, prompted congressional Democrats to immediately launch an investigation into decision. The probe is being led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBipartisan Senate group offers new help to state, local governmentsNJ Democrat apologizes for making homophobic remarks about gay mayorDemocrats warn against pausing WHO aid: Coronavirus not time to ‘upend our relationship’MORE (D-N.J.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTop Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump’s ability to fire IG’sSenate Republicans demand answers from Trump on IG firingOvernight Defense: State Dept. watchdog was investigating emergency Saudi arms sales before ouster | Pompeo says he requested watchdog be fired for ‘undermining’ department | Pensacola naval base shooter had ‘significant ties’ to al Qaeda, Barr saysMORE (D-N.Y.) and looking into whether the ouster was linked to the official’s review of wrongdoing by Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTop Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump’s ability to fire IG’sSchumer on Trump IG firing: What is GOP going to do about it?Senate Republicans demand answers from Trump on IG firingMORE.