President Donald Trump speaks on protecting Americas seniors from the COVID-19 pandemic in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 30, 2020.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
The White House has moved to oust an inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services weeks after the official presented President Donald Trump with a report showing that hospitals responding to the coronavirus pandemic are lacking in necessary supplies.
In a press release sent Friday night after normal business hours, the White House announced that Jason Weida, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, would take over for Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm.
But a spokesperson for the HHS told NBC News in a statement that Weida’s nomination does not mean that Grimm would leave the agency.
“The nomination of an IG isn’t a replacement for Christi,” the spokesperson said. “She has been in the number two position as Principal Deputy Inspector General since January 2020. In that position, she is performing the duties of the IG until that position is filled.”
Weida’s nomination comes weeks after Trump delivered swift backlash to Grimm over Twitter, challenging Grimm’s credentials and accusing her of peddling “fake” information.
“Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!” Trump tweeted on April 7.
In order for Grimm’s replacement to become official, the Senate, with its GOP majority, must confirm Weida to the position.
Grimm’s report, released last month, showed that many hospitals lack crucial supplies needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, including thermometers and surgical masks.
When reporters asked about the HHS report at an afternoon coronavirus briefing in April, Trump said, “It’s just wrong,” but did not provide any evidence to support his claim.
The White House declined to comment when CNBC asked whether Grimm’s report was a catalyst for her replacement.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., decried the move in a statement, characterizing it as an act intended to “silence an independent government official.”
“The President cannot be above oversight, no matter how he denies, attacks, and fights against it,” Murray, the ranking members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said.
“His nominee must not get through the Senate without ironclad commitments to continue, without any political interference, the investigations that are currently underway. Anyone who demands less will be complicit in the President’s clear pattern of retaliation against those who tell the truth.”
The move to replace Grimm is the latest in a series of actions and statements by the president that reflect his growing frustration overall with independent inspectors general.
Trump is known to respond harshly to any perceived dissent or criticism of his administration. The president often views inspectors general, whose job it is to hold agencies accountable, as critics and roadblocks to achieving his policy and political goals.
The outbreak has spread to dozens of countries globally, with more than 3.3 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 239,090 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There are at least 1.1 million cases in the United States and at least 65,068 deaths, according to the latest tallies.
— CNBC’s Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.