Warren to grill stimulus IG-nominee Miller on independence from Trump

Warren's letter raises questions about whether President Donald Trump's pick to oversee $500 billion in coronavirus relief corporate loans is independent enough.
Image:  Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee investigations into federal corporate loans as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill is coming under fire by Democrats on the eve of his confirmation hearing.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent Brian Miller, nominated to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery, an 11-page letter Monday, detailing a litany of questions about his role during the impeachment proceedings and his ability to show independence from a president who has reduced the ranks of inspectors general conducting oversight in recent weeks.

“Your recent experience as a legal advocate for the president and the White House raises questions about your ability to immediately shift to a position where independence from the White House is a requirement,” Warren wrote.

Trump nominated Miller for the oversight role, a position Congress created in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act to oversee $500 billion to be lent out by the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to large companies, on the same night that he fired the Intelligence Committee Inspector General Michael Atkinson. The firing raised alarm bells that the president was retaliating against inspectors general and sending a warning shot to others in oversight positions.

Brian Miller testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill on April 18, 2012.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

In the letter, Warren, who is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which will conduct the confirmation hearing, said she plans to ask Miller to clarify his roles in the White House and if he advised the president or any White House official not to turn over documents in response to congressional investigations or inspectors general.

Warren indicated that she also plans to ask Miller if he advised the president to add a signing statement to the CARES Act saying he wouldn’t allow inspectors general to turn over information to Congress without the president’s approval.

“What action will you take if the president refuses to allow you to report relevant information to Congress,” she wrote.

Warren and Miller also spoke via phone on Monday where the senator raised some of the issues she expressed in her letter, according to a Warren aide.

Warren is also raising concerns about Miller’s willingness to operate independently of the president.

Trump last month sidelined the acting inspector general of the Department of Defense, Glenn Fine, who was appointed to lead a coalition of inspectors general to also provide oversight for the coronavirus relief bill. And Friday, he demoted the principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, after she raised concerns about the lack of personal protective equipment at hospitals.

Miller was previously the inspector general at the General Services Administration for 10 years. He was praised as an effective IG whose investigation in 2008 led to the removal of the agency’s head, Lurita Doan, for having given a contract to a friend while a separate investigation revealed excess at the agency’s convention in Las Vegas.

After he left the GSA and before he want to work at the White House, Miller worked from 2015 to 2018 in private practice at Rogers Joseph O’Donnell, where he advised corporate clients on how to address government investigations and audits.

In her letter, Warren pointed to an opinion piece he wrote in The Hill in August of 2018 where he advocated not complying with congressional requests at times

Warren is not the only Democrat expected to grill Miller on Tuesday. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a ranking member on the banking committee, said in a statement after the announcement of the nomination that he “questions” how Miller will be able to hold the Trump administration accountable.