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Longtime Pentagon watchdog stepping down from post

Glenn Fine.
Glenn Fine.Drew Angerer/Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty

WASHINGTON — Glenn A. Fine, ousted by President Donald Trump last month as head of a watchdog panel assigned to oversee how his administration spends trillions of taxpayer dollars in coronavirus pandemic relief, announced Monday he was resigning from his Pentagon job.

On April 7, Trump demoted Fine from his role as the acting inspector general for the Defense Department. The move disqualified Fine, who has a reputation for aggressiveness and independence, from continuing to serve as the just-named leader of a committee of inspectors general that Congress created to coordinate oversight of the administration’s pandemic spending.

Trump replaced Fine as the acting Pentagon watchdog with Sean O’Donnell, sitting inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency. The demotion meant Fine reverted to his permanent position as principal deputy inspector general, which rendered him ineligible to be a member of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

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Fine had just been named chairman of that panel a few days earlier by a broader organization of inspectors general from across the government.

The president nominated Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and a former federal investigator, as the Defense Department’s permanent inspector general. That nomination is pending.

At the time, Fine’s spokeswoman, Dwrena K. Allen, said he “remains focused and committed to the important mission” of the Office of Inspector General for the Defense Department.

But shorn of his leadership role, both at the Defense Department and in the new pandemic oversight panel, Fine now has opted to leave government. He had served as the acting inspector general at the Pentagon since 2016.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to serve with you for the past five years,” Fine said in an email message to his staff Monday morning. “What you do every day is critical to our system of government.”

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Fine praised the staff for a series of financial audits, criminal investigations and quarterly assessments of overseas operations in conflict zones, including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. “You provide independent, nonpartisan oversight of important government operations,” Fine said in the email.

In a separate public statement, Fine, who formerly served as the Justice Department’s inspector general, cited the importance of the inspectors general throughout government, a group Trump has attacked as yet another form of resistance to his policies from the so-called deep state.

“The role of inspectors general is a strength of our system of government,” Fine said. “They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way. They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system.”

Fine made no mention of Trump in his email to staff or his public statement.

The president last month started a frontal assault on the ability of inspectors general to investigate his administration.

The dismantling began with a rapid flurry of firings and demotions, including the removal of the inspectors general for the intelligence community and the State Department. Trump placed the State Department’s inspector general on immediate leave, notwithstanding a law that says he must give Congress his reasons 30 days before ousting such an official.

Trump has also declined to say why he was removing inspectors general beyond telling Congress that they no longer had his full confidence, leading to complaints by lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that the president is violating the requirement to provide an explanation.

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And in a highly unusual step, Trump has also pushed ahead by replacing incumbents with political appointees who hold on to their old jobs, keeping them under the control of the Cabinet secretaries they are supposed to be policing.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.