'We follow the facts wherever they lead': Inspector general who was demoted after Trump attacked her speaks out on the importance of independent oversight

By Sonam Sheth

Christi Grimm, the former acting inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke out Tuesday about the importance of the independence of the US oversight community.

Grimm served as the HHS acting IG until May 2, when President Donald Trump announced he would replace her with Jason Weida, an assistant US attorney in Boston following a slew of public attacks against her.

During a briefing Tuesday before the House Oversight Committee, Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia asked Grimm whether she was "concerned professionally that the independence of IGs or your own independence are at risk, or might be compromised, by recent statements and actions taken by the executive."

"Chairman Connelly, I would like to address your question by just talking about the importance of independence for inspectors general, generally," Grimm said. "I view, and the community views, independence and effectiveness of an IG as a key safeguard for the programs that we oversee. It's a cornerstone of the IG Act and it's a foundational element of the work of any IG."

She added that this independence "allows us to bring our objective judgment to bear on problems without worrying about whether those that run the programs are hearing what they want to hear, or what they want to see the programs be doing."

"We follow the facts wherever they lead, we are impartial in what we do, and really anything that is done that could impair independence, I think, compromises the effectiveness of oversight of programs that are there to serve the American public — in our case the 300 programs within HHS," Grimm said.

Grimm angered Trump after she released a report in March that said there were "severe shortages" of testing kits in the US, "widespread shortages" of masks and other personal protective equipment at hospitals across the country, and significant delays in getting coronavirus test results. The deficits hampered the US's ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus outbreak and curb its spread, the report found.

Trump tore into Grimm during an April 6 news conference and accused her findings of being politically motivated.

"Where did he come from, the inspector general? What's his name?" Trump said when asked about the HHS report.

He later attacked Grimm on Twitter as well, writing, "Why didn't the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report."

(Grimm joined the inspector general's office in 1999 during the Clinton administration and served under both Democratic and Republican administrations. She was not a political appointee.)

Grimm is one of four inspectors general Trump has pushed out in recent weeks.

On April 3, the president fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general who provoked Trump's ire when he alerted Congress about an anonymous whistleblower complaint accusing Trump of trying to solicit Ukraine's interference in the 2020 US presidential election.

The whistleblower complaint became the catalyst for Trump's impeachment on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump of both charges earlier this year.

On April 7, Trump abruptly removed the Pentagon's acting watchdog, Glenn Fine, who had also been tapped to oversee the execution of the $2 trillion package Congress passed for coronavirus relief.

And on May 15, the president fired the State Department inspector general, Steve Linick.

Reports in the days after indicated that at the time of his firing, Linick was said to be investigating whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer walk his dog and pick up his dry cleaning.

The Washington Post later reported that Linick was also investigating Pompeo's decision to expedite an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last May. The Trump administration circumvented congressional authority on the matter at the time by citing heightened tensions with Iran.