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White House Lawyer Confirmed As Virus Relief Watchdog

By Andrew Kragie · June 2, 2020, 9:28 PM EDT

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed a White House lawyer to monitor billions, possibly trillions, in pandemic relief, with just one Democrat joining Republicans to approve the former General Services Administration watchdog.

Senators voted 51-40 to confirm Brian D. Miller, who works in the White House counsel's office, as the first special inspector general for pandemic relief. The position was established in the $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package to oversee the half-trillion dollars allocated to the Treasury Department. Miller told senators last month that he would also examine trillions in emergency lending by the Federal Reserve, along with the direct payments distributed to most Americans as tax rebates. Democrats questioned his independence from the Trump administration.

"Having a genuine watchdog to oversee the Trump administration's use of unprecedented levels of taxpayer funds in this pandemic is critically important," the chamber's top Democrat, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, said in a statement last month. "He did not convince me that he had that necessary independence to do this job. Mr. Miller refused to provide any sense of his work or responsibilities in the White House counsel's office and refused even to say whether President Trump was right or wrong to fire a rash of inspectors general in recent weeks."

The only Democrat to join Republicans in voting for Miller was Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, a centrist who faces a tough reelection race in an overwhelmingly Republican state. He pointed to Miller's work at the GSA under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

"Mr. Miller is a former prosecutor who later served for nearly 10 years as an inspector general under both President Bush and President Obama. During his prior tenure he demonstrated his independence on a number of occasions," Jones said in a statement.

At the GSA, Miller handled many large audits and recovered more than $1 billion for the government. However, he drew the most national attention for his investigation of a lavish GSA conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

His team documented more than $820,000 in costs that included $44 daily breakfasts, $5,600 for three semiprivate catered in-room parties, and $21,000 on commemorative coins and other mementos. GSA Administrator Martha Johnson resigned in 2012 after firing other senior leaders.

"At every point I had to fight for independence," Miller told senators at his confirmation hearing last month, recalling how another GSA administrator — a fellow appointee of President Bush — went to the White House and had several members of Congress pressure the administration to fire him. The administrator was ultimately asked to resign after Miller's office found she steered a $20,000-a-month contract to a friend.

"You're never comfortable," he said. "That goes with the territory. ... At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with your own conscience."

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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