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Sen. Warren to oppose Trump stimulus watchdog nominee

The Massachusetts senator says the nominee, Brian Miller, was "evasive" when asked about his independence.
Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds a campaign rally in S.C. on Feb. 26, 2020.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds a campaign rally in S.C. on Feb. 26, 2020.Mark Makela / for NBC News

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, will oppose the nomination of President Donald Trump's pick to oversee federal spending for pandemic recovery because he was “evasive” in answering her committee's questions and indicated he is “unwilling” to act independently from the president, Warren's office told NBC News.

Brian Miller, legal counsel and special adviser to the president, was nominated by the president to watch over the $500 billion in federal funding to large companies allocated in the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March to help battle the coronavirus epidemic.

The Senate Banking Committee will vote on his nomination Tuesday. Despite the opposition from Warren and expected opposition by other Democrats on the committee, Miller is likely to gain the support of enough Republicans to ensure that his nomination advances to the Senate floor.

In a series of written questions to Miller, Warren asked the nominee if he had any role or was aware of Trump’s sidelining and firing numerous inspectors general, including Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, Department of Defense acting IG Glenn Fine, and acting IG at Health and Human Services Christie Grimm.

In his answers, which were obtained by NBC News, Miller would not directly answer the question, writing that he is “limited by ethical obligations that bind all lawyers” as then-counsel to the president.

Trump's recent dismissal of multiple inspectors general in recent weeks has raised alarm among Democrats and some Republicans about oversight of billions of dollars of federal funds in coronavirus relief.

In his responses, Miller also invoked attorney-client privilege when asked if he was involved in Trump’s signing statement of the CARES Act as an adviser, saying that any oversight investigation to be sent to Congress must first be reviewed by the White House.

Warren called his answers “disqualifying.”

“Mr. Miller was evasive and unwilling or unable to mitigate concerns about his work in the White House counsel's office as an advocate for President Trump — and that failure is disqualifying,” Warren told NBC News in a statement.

Warren indicated she was more satisfied with Miller’s commitment to investigating potential abuses of corporations use of federal funds but is skeptical that he’ll follow through given her belief that he won’t be independent from the president. In his confirmation hearing last week, in response to questions by Warren, Miller said he would open an investigation if a recipient of federal bailout money shed workers or used the money to lobby Congress or the White House.

In her written questions to Miller, Warren asked if he would open an investigation into corporations that are not using money to keep workers on a job or provide a minimum wage of $15 an hour. She also wanted to know if he would look into whether the money is being used to compensate CEOs or senior executives or if the loan recipients were buying back stocks or dividends.

To all questions, Miller said he would “consider all of the factors” as “legally appropriate.”

“Mr. Miller did commit in writing to investigations into any corporate abuse of bailout funds. But there must be no question about whether the SIG overseeing half a trillion dollars in taxpayer funds is apolitical and independent,” Warren said.