In separate letters to Chao and to the new acting IG, Howard “Skip” Elliott—who will now be overseeing himself at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)—House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) are demanding answers and Behm’s reinstatement. “Mr. Behm’s removal is the latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General by President Trump,” the lawmakers wrote to Chao. “This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.”
In the letter to Elliott, the committee leaders demanded he step down from his job at PHMSA and recuse himself from any investigations of that agency, or of Chao. The “inherent conflict of interest would prohibit you from having the independence necessary to conduct fair and rigorous oversight of the Department and the Secretary,” they wrote. “Your dual appointment could severely chill whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Inspector General because whistleblowers might fear that their identities could become known to an official still serving in the Department.”
Donald Sherman, deputy director of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), says all this is very stinky. CREW has sent a number of Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover what happened in this decision-making process. Sherman says that the firing of Behm and the installation of Elliott looks like an effort to “install somebody more politically aligned with the president to lead the Office of Inspector General in the couple of months or so it will take to likely confirm the president’s nominee.” And somebody who is ideally more politically aligned with McConnell, as the key investigation of Behm could not only be damaging to Chao but “also to the president’s chief ally in the Senate,” Sherman said.
The House lawmakers said they were “concerned” that the firing is “an effort to undermine the progress” of the Chao/McConnell investigation, “which we understand is ongoing. … Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector General’s investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our Committees,” they wrote to Chao.
McConnell, CREW writes, “was integral to the Senate’s consideration of Howard Elliott’s nomination to lead PHMSA.” He’s also going to be “instrumental to Eric Soskin’s potential confirmation as permanent IG. … These moves will leave oversight of the Chao-McConnell investigation in the hands of Trump administration officials who McConnell has effectively endorsed.” Which is awfully handy for Moscow Mitch. There really isn’t any bottom to his corruption when it comes to holding onto, and abusing, his power.