According to a new report from The Washington Post, at least nine Trump era investigations by Inspector Generals “were impeded by clashes with the White House or political appointees,” meaning that critical government oversight work faltered. Inspector Generals across respective departments of the federal government handle oversight of their particular departments, and investigative efforts that were undercut by political interference in the Trump era involved then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the possibly politically motivated withholding of post-disaster aid from Puerto Rico, drinking on the job by Trump era White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, and more.
Although the Trump administration blocked the progression of certain critical investigative efforts, findings from some of the still-delayed probes could be imminent. Just this month, officials released a report about Jackson, who “bullied his staff and drank on the job,” as the Post summarizes. Jackson currently serves as a Republican Congressman from Texas and has cast himself as a committed Trump ally.
Problems persist. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where Inspector General Rae Oliver Davis has been investigating the disbursement of aid to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2019, department officials “demanded that their attorneys sit in on witness interviews, a tactic inspectors general said was unusual and could shape witness testimony,” according to the Post. In the same case, “White House officials told top agency appointees to withhold their communications,” the publication adds. Davis’s team has not yet completed their report on the issue.
According to the Post, “11 inspectors general or their senior aides who served under Trump, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal government deliberations, said hostility to oversight reached unprecedented levels during his time in office.” Trump repeatedly fired Inspector Generals who ended up on the opposite side of an issue from him politically. For instance, after then-Inspector General for the intelligence community Michael Atkinson notified Congress, as required, of a whistleblower complaint revealing Trump’s hope to bribe Ukraine into investigating the Bidens, the then-president fired him.
Although the report on Jackson and another report on Chao did finally emerge recently, other still open Inspector General investigations from the Trump era include examinations of the Trump administration’s efforts to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census and of Trump era Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
In February of 2019, prosecutors actually convened a grand jury as part of an investigation into “whether Zinke made false statements to investigators who were looking into his decision not to grant a petition to two Indian tribes hoping to operate a casino,” the Post says, and prosecutors eventually recommended charges — but then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen declined to move forward, and the matter remains open.
At present, Democrats “are urging Biden to rapidly fill vacancies in the inspector general ranks,” the Post notes. Elsewhere in the federal government, Biden has already moved to fill relevant vacancies with three nominees for the Postal Service Board of Governors, which has the responsibility of appointing the Postmaster General.