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Trump Puts One Bailout Watchdog on Hot Seat -- and Drops Another

April 7, 2020, 6:55 PM

The White House lawyer tapped to oversee disbursements from a massive U.S. pandemic relief fund is a former seminarian with decades of oversight experience yet still faces questions over whether he’ll do President Donald Trump’s bidding instead of protecting taxpayers.

Brian Miller will be the main watchdog over $500 billion directed to big business by Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s Treasury Department. The spending is part of a more than $2 trillion rescue package passed by Congress to salve an economy suffering under a virus-induced, stay-at-home coma.

If confirmed by the Senate, Miller will walk a tightrope between congressional Democrats bent on tight oversight and a president who’s been quick to smite inspectors general. Since last week Trump has dismissed one watchdog, criticized another for spotlighting reports of equipment shortages at hospitals, and shunted another from a post overseeing pandemic spending.

Miller, 64, was born in New York City and is a 1977 graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He studied at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1983. Since then he’s probed health care fraud for the Justice Department and monitored spending at the General Services Administration.

Trump named Miller late Friday to become Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery -- a post the president already has sought to bridle by limiting its communications with Congress. That same evening, the president fired the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who brought a whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress that led to the president’s impeachment in the House.

The moves fed foreboding that Trump may resist adhering to the maze of rules and restrictions surrounding federal spending as months of frenzied check-writing commence.

“The inspector general providing oversight of the federal response of this historic relief package for workers and families must be independent from politics,” House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “The president’s nomination of one of his own lawyers clearly fails that test.”

Earlier: Trump Defends Move to Fire Watchdog Who Raised Ukraine Complaint

After law school, Miller spent time in private practice and then with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He was with the Justice Department from 1990 until 2005, including time as special counsel on health care fraud.

In 2005, President George W. Bush tapped him to be inspector general at the General Services Administration. While in that post he was publicly critical of the agency’s administrator, Lurita Doan.

In testimony to Congress in 2007, Miller told lawmakers “the record does not support Administrator Doan’s assertion that she did everything she could to clean up the situation.”

Doan told lawmakers the inspector general’s tactics were “excessive and intrusive” and that he was resisting oversight of spending by his office.

The next year, she resigned after a House committee investigated whether she had used her office to support Republican candidates.

Political Reasons

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight that investigates corruption, said Miller was “very good during the Bush administration” at the GSA. Yet she still expressed apprehension.

“I don’t care how heroic Brian or any inspector general is, I do not see how they can feel confident doing their best work knowing they can be fired by the president for political reasons,” she said in an interview.

In 2014, Miller became managing director in the Washington office of Navigant, the consultancy company. He later worked as an attorney with a specialty in government contracts at Rogers Joseph O’Donnell.

It’s his current job at the White House that has given skeptics pause. Miller works at a White House branch where people are chosen for loyalty to the president, said Kedric Payne, senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that works to strengthen the democratic process.

“To think that Day One the loyalty comes off when he is special IG, that is a hard thing to accept,” Payne said in an interview.

(Updates with Trump actions in third paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story:
Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net;
Jason Grotto in Chicago at jgrotto2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

Elizabeth Wasserman, Max Berley

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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