IGs in Trump's Crosshairs: Watching the Watchdogs

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White House officials are taking a critical look at the records of several administration inspectors general, part of the cadre of internal agency watchdogs tasked with serving as the first line of defense against government malfeasance and corruption.

President Trump often refers to government waste as part of the Washington “swamp” he has vowed to drain – but the phrase has also become shorthand for bureaucratic resistance to his agenda and policies. Putting inspectors general, or IGs, under the microscope is the latest push in Trump’s post-impeachment purge of government officials whom the president and his conservative supporters say have worked to undermine his agenda and sabotage political appointees’ efforts to carry it out, several sources familiar with the discussions have told RealClearPolitics.

Trump, more so than other presidents, has made little secret of his distrust of high-profile inspectors general. In a mid-December tweet, the president accused Michael Horowitz, the FBI’s IG, of overlooking bias at the bureau in his final report on the way the agency handled its investigation into alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia. He also reminded the public that Horowitz had been appointed by President Obama.

Last fall, Trump made headlines for considering dismissing one of his own appointees, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general. The stated cause of his displeasure was Atkinson’s decision to officially rule as credible the impeachment whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. Although Trump has not yet removed Atkinson (pictured), he has repeatedly lashed out at him publicly, suggesting he conspired with Democrats to greenlight the whistleblower’s account.

Heightened monitoring of IG investigations and their findings has yet to lead to anyone’s ouster, but key administration officials and Trump allies are urging the president to do some housecleaning and get rid of Obama-era watchdogs sprinkled throughout the administration. Several acting inspectors general appointed during the Obama administration are still operating at key government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Treasury Department.

“The federal bureaucracy has gone to war with the Trump administration, and their people have targeted and taken out many Trump’s officials,” a former White House official told RCP. “Those who are naturally responsible are the IGs, and they are complicit in their inaction.”

“The IGs, many put in place by the Obama administration, empower the deep state to go after the administration. … It’s absolutely nuts,” the former official added. “If [officials] were scared of the consequences of breaking the law, they wouldn’t go after the Trump administration like they do. That’s why you have the deep state gone wild. No one is watching the watchdogs.”

One of the driving forces behind the new focus is the Trump camp’s frustration over a long-standing impasse into a whistleblower reprisal case against defense analyst Adam Lovinger, an ousted member of Trump’s National Security Council who has become a cause celebre among some of Trump’s closest allies and advisers. Lovinger, who was removed from Trump’s NSC early in the administration, has spent nearly three years on unpaid administrative leave and the last two waiting for acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was appointed by Obama, to wrap up the case and issue his final report.

Lovinger had formally complained about lucrative contracts at the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. He was later suspended from his role at the NSC and stripped of his security clearance for allegations that he brought classified material onto an airplane, a charge his lawyer says was never substantiated. The new scrutiny of Obama-appointed IGs also comes amid developments in another controversial case involving threats to a different Trump appointee’s security clearance.

The inspector general for the U.S. Agency for International Development several weeks ago reopened an investigation into the firing of Mark Moyar, a Trump appointee who reported allegations of rampant government waste, fraud and abuse at the agency. The decision to reopen the case came after RCP reported that the USAID inspector general, Anna Calvaresi Barr, whom Obama tapped for the job in 2015, found that Moyar didn’t have whistleblower protections afforded to other security-clearance holders after USAID officials suspended his clearance and threatened to fire him last summer.

Moyar was eventually allowed to resign, a decision later held against him in due-process denials.

That IG is expected to finalize its formal report on that reopened probe as early as this week. Moyar’s attorney, Kel McClanahan, told RCP the agency has completed its investigation and he and Moyar are awaiting its response.

“We are happy they chose to reopen this, and we believe [the way Moyar was treated] was a grave error,” said McClanahan, the executive director of National Security Counselors, a public-interest law firm. “We’re optimistic that this new, more thorough Report of Investigation will vindicate everything he said.”

The USAID IG said it could not comment on a personnel case but insisted it was operating properly. “The OIG is fully committed to conducting oversight in a fair and thorough manner, consistent with our mandate to provide for independent, objective oversight of U.S. foreign assistance,” the emailed statement said. “As we have previously stated, under the law USAID OIG cannot comment on -- or even acknowledge -- any particular complaint or case.”

In internal USAID documents, agency officials acknowledged suspending Moyar’s security clearance last summer based on an allegation from U.S. Special Operations Command that he disclosed classified information in “Oppose Any Foe,” a 2017 book he wrote as an academic history of the U.S. Special Forces.

Moyar, who holds a doctorate in history from Cambridge and an undergraduate degree from Harvard, served as the director of the Project on Military and Diplomatic History at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a well-respected Washington security think tank. He also served as a member of the Hoover Institution’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict. 

After objecting to USAID actions against him last year, Moyar sent a letter to Capitol Hill in January lamenting that he left a good job at CSIS to work for the Trump administration, and feels he was railroaded after following administration orders to help “drain the swamp” and expose government waste and abuse. Over the course of several months in late 2018 and early 2019, Moyar reported multiple instances of waste and abuse at USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation, or CMC.

Several current and former USAID employees spoke to RCP on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal. They described CMC as toxic and dysfunctional before Moyar arrived. Many staffers who were part of an internal clique only showed up for a few hours a day, if at all, while others were often on questionable travel. In addition, personnel decisions were regularly made without the usually required higher USAID authorization, the sources said.

Before Moyar was tapped to lead the CMC it had some of the lowest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey scores in all of USAID, a public sign of the office’s weak morale. After Moyar’s forced resignation, these same sources said that the CMC returned to a state of dysfunction, with at least three officials on their way out and their jobs advertised on USAjobs.gov, an online clearinghouse for open federal government positions.

A USAID spokesperson defended CMC’s operation, saying that it’s “well-staffed with a solid cadre of Foreign Service officers assigned to combatant commands and the Pentagon to carry forward our civ-mil work.”

Asked to comment about Moyar’s case, the USAID spokesperson said the Privacy Act prohibits federal government departments and agencies from providing information about personnel matters unless the person in question waives his privacy rights. In a sworn statement circulated on Capitol Hill, Moyar argued that some of the officials he cited for the abuse conspired with senior career USAID officials to gin up or misinterpret SOCOM findings that his book revealed classified material, done as an excuse to oust him over his efforts to expose waste and abuse at the agency.

A review of the book lauding it as an “excellent primer” was published on the CIA’s website shortly after it was published in 2017 and remains there. In a Jan. 10 letter to USAID Administrator Mark Green, which Moyar included in a packet he sent to several lawmakers, he complained that USAID officials had not checked in with the White House before firing him.

Moyar has implored Trump, as well as Green, to reverse course and reinstate him at USAID or in another position within the administration.

“The USAID administrator has the authority to reverse wrongful decisions and to seek investigative assistance from outside the agency, which is clearly necessary in light of the bias demonstrated by USAID [Office of Inspector General] and the [the USAID Security Office],” he wrote. “If this precedent is allowed to stand, then in the future, the Deep State can remove any political appointee by simply having their friends at one agency send an unsubstantiated allegation of security clearance infraction to another agency.”

The White House declined to comment about Moyar’s case.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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