In at least nine instances, Donald Trump and his top White House officials aggressively combatted key oversight investigations that government watchdogs were attempting to conduct within the Trump administration, according to reporting by the Washington Post.
Just a couple months into a new administration, some results from those nine impeded probes are starting to come to light. Among the most high profile was the recent conclusion by the Department of Transportation inspector general that former agency head Elaine Chao abused her office for personal reasons, including to boost the prospects of a family business. Another revelation was the finding that former White House physician, retired Navy rear admiral Ronny Jackson, abused substances on the job and created a toxic work environment for his staff.
The main problem with these long-awaited findings is that, for the most part, the damage has already been done and without consequence for the perpetrators of the abuses. Chao resigned her Cabinet post following Trump's insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Jackson made a successful bid for Congress last year and now represents Texas' 13th district.
While no leader or agency head is particularly excited about having an internal watchdog looking over their shoulder, investigators working within the Trump administration told the Post the obstacles they faced were particularly onerous. Administration attorneys insisted internal communications were confidential and off limits. They also demanded to be present at witness interviews. Information was either withheld entirely from investigators or released at a snail's pace. The result was an inability to assess and correct internal problems in real time, which is exactly the purpose an internal watchdog is intended to serve.
“IGs under Trump faced an angry, account-settling president who had no compunction about removing those who threatened to reveal bad things about him,” said Gordon Heddell, a former inspector general at the Defense and Labor departments who served under Republican and Democratic presidents.
More delayed reports are expected to be released in the coming months, including one on whether the White House blocked delivery of post-Hurricane Maria financial aid to Puerto Rico and another on the Commerce Department's controversial addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. The Pentagon is also conducting an inquiry into a $400 million border-wall contract that Trump repeatedly pushed to award to a North Dakota construction company even after he was told its bid was subpar. And the General Services Administration inspector general is conducting a sweeping review of how different federal agencies responded to the coronavirus.
While we await results from those inquiries, what is entirely clear already is that internal oversight met with unprecedented obstruction within the Trump administration—a hostile posture pushed by the White House—and that led to bad outcomes for U.S. government operations and taxpayers alike.