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When Congress was considering passing the more than $2 trillion coronavirus bailout two months ago, President Donald Trump made his vision for oversight clear. “I’ll be the oversight,” he said.
The CARES Act empowers a number of different offices to make sure the money is spent wisely and without favoritism. Shortly after he signed it into law, Trump ousted the inspector general who was slated to lead the oversight — one of five watchdogs the president has purged in less than two months.
Trump also issued a signing statement asserting that he can ignore oversight provisions of the bailout law and that Congress does not have to be consulted. “My Administration will treat this provision as hortatory but not mandatory,” he wrote.
We spoke to an official just hired to do one of the jobs Trump cited in his signing statement. She told us that Trump’s moves have made her particularly careful to avoid any “adverse” comments about the administration.
Linda Miller began work this week as the deputy executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, or PRAC. Miller spent a decade at the nonpartisan, independent Government Accountability Office, where she dug into the case of a crooked Navy contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard. She said she’s learned that corruption often starts at the top.
Here is an edited transcript of our conversation with Miller. She spoke with “Trump, Inc.” co-host Ilya Marritz a few days before formally joining the PRAC. (Our episode also includes an interview with Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the bailout’s congressional watchdog.)
Trump, Inc.: You warned my producer when we booked this interview that there are a lot of things that you can’t talk about or won’t talk about. Just so I know, what are those things?
Linda Miller: Uh, anything that would be in any way adverse to the administration is something that I won’t be commenting on in any way.
Trump, Inc.: What do you mean by “adverse to the administration”?
Miller: I can’t speak negatively about the president or any of the decisions he’s made, particularly when it comes to the IG community. That’s the biggest, probably political football around my new role. The IG community is obviously under a lot of stress and scrutiny.
There’s a lot of politics, and people have been asking me what it’s going to be like to go work in the inspector general community. I can speak real broadly. I just won’t say anything that’s in any way derogatory about the president because, obviously in my role, I need to stay as neutral as possible in order to basically stay in my role, frankly.
Trump, Inc.: And that’s your judgment, coming into this job.
Miller: Right. That’s my judgment.
Trump, Inc.: I know that your career specialty is detecting risk of fraud. You did this at the Government Accountability Office. You also did it in the private sector. What are some of the frauds that you have uncovered?
Miller: My specialty is less in investigating fraud and more in helping organizations prevent fraud from occurring. So, often when a big fraud event occurs, I come in afterwards and help the agency or sometimes the private-sector company think about how they were vulnerable.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the very large Navy scandal, it’s affectionately known as the “Fat Leonard” scandal. A contractor who bribed a variety of senior government officials all the way up to admirals, in order to get information that would give him a competitive advantage.
That particular scandal was shocking for the scale and the scope. There were bribes involving prostitutes, and meals, and jewelry and all kinds of stuff.
And I often use that fraud example when I ta