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COVID-19 loan IG nominee faces Senate panel as Trump stills watchdogs

Brian Miller is in the White House counsel's office

The socially distancing Senate Banking Committee will reconvene from a coronavirus-prolonged recess Tuesday to consider President Donald Trump’s nominee to watch over trillions in federal loans to keep the economy afloat while the pandemic shutters much of the nation.

Brian Miller’s last job as a member of Trump’s impeachment defense team has some worried he won’t be able, or even try, to effectively hold this administration accountable as the special inspector general for the $500 billion that Congress gave the Treasury Department in March to bail out airlines and certain defense contractors and set up lending facilities with the Federal Reserve.

“Mr. Miller will have to prove he works for the American people, not the White House,” said Senate Banking ranking member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “He will have to show that he can hold the Trump administration accountable and ensure that the money allocated by Congress goes to workers, small businesses and communities impacted by the crisis.”

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The committee is meeting in a larger room than usual and limiting the attendance to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. 

Danielle Brian, executive director at Project On Government Oversight, worked closely with Miller during his nearly decadelong tenure as inspector general for the General Services Administration.

“I thought he was good, very good. So while I know people very reasonably have a lot of concerns that someone coming from the White House counsel was nominated, I have some context to think there’s more to him than just that fact,” she said.

After leaving the GSA, Miller repeatedly wrote about the need to protect IGs’ independence and testified before a Senate panel in 2015 against limiting IGs’ access to sensitive records. His investigation in 2010 into an extravagant GSA conference in Las Vegas made national headlines and led to the organizer’s criminal conviction.

Miller’s confirmation hearing comes amid a series of acts against other watchdogs by the Trump administration, Brian warned. “Even if a president doesn’t retaliate against inspector generals, that’s always a hard job — I’d argue one of the hardest jobs in Washington,” she said. “And in this case, the environment makes it almost impossible.”

[Trump throws ‘wrecking ball’ across federal inspectors general]

If confirmed, Miller will run but one of the many oversight elements established by the roughly $2 trillion COVID-19 response package. A five-member Congressional Oversight Commission will also track the Fed and Treasury’s loan programs.

The March law also created a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee the government’s COVID-19 spending, empowering the chair of the Council of Inspectors General to appoint its executive director. But after the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Glenn Fine, was named to head the committee, Trump removed him from his posts.

That move came days after Trump said he would fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who alerted Congress to the whistleblower complaint that led to the president’s impeachment. Trump acknowledged firing Atkinson over that decision.

Trump also recently announced he would replace the acting inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services after a report on the shortages of testing and personal protective equipment at hospitals. 

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