Ahead of confirmation hearing, former White House lawyer picked to oversee pandemic relief vows 'independence'

Democrats complain Brian Miller worked in the White House counsel's office.

May 5, 2020, 9:08 AM

President Donald Trump’s controversial pick as the special inspector general to supervise the pandemic recovery effort at the Treasury Department faces a confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, nearly one month after his nomination.

If confirmed, Brian Miller will serve as the key watchdog in overseeing elements of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, tasked with rooting out fraud and abuse in the Treasury Department's $500 billion relief program for distressed businesses.

Miller, a former lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, will need to be confirmed by the full Senate.

The hearing could get feisty. The decision to nominate Miller infuriated some Democrats who were quick to condemn the nomination of a former White House lawyer for a role that is typically nonpartisan and independent.

PHOTO: General Services Administration, Inspector General Brian Miller testifies during a hearing before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee April 18, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
General Services Administration, Inspector General Brian Miller testifies during a hearing before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee April 18, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE

While in the White House counsel’s office, Miller played a role on Trump’s impeachment defense team, rebuffing investigations into the military aid withheld from Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment. Miller does have extensive watchdog experience. He served as inspector general for the General Services Administration for 10 years and prior to that worked at the Department of Justice for 15 years.

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In a prepared statement to the committee ahead of his hearing, Miller pledged to remain impartial, writing that he will “seek the truth in all matters” that come before him.

“If confirmed, I will conduct every audit and investigation with fairness and impartiality. I will be vigilant to protect the integrity and independence of the Office of Special Inspector General,” Miller’s prepared statement reads. “I pledge to seek the truth in all matters that come before me and to use my authority and resources to uncover fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The president’s usual attitude towards inspectors general has been to immediately assume political bias and Miller’s appointment came the same day the president fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. It was Atkinson who first alerted Congress to the whistleblower complaint that triggered Trump’s impeachment over military aid to Ukraine.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed a laundry list of questions she wants addressed in an 11-page letter sent to to Miller on Monday -- ranging from if he provided legal advice to the president regarding Atkinson’s removal to whether he would commit to resign if the president directed him to take action related to the CARES Act that conflicted with its intent.

In a 2018 article penned in The Hill, Miller emphasized the need for IG’s to be independent, including being independent of Congress.

“But the greatest danger may be to the IGs themselves, specifically to their independence,” Miller wrote. “IGs must be independent -- this includes being independent of Congress. Saying no to Congress is sometimes the hardest thing an IG has to do. When I was an IG, I said no to members of Congress.”

But in a signing document accompanied by the CARES Act, the president indicated he would attempt to control what Miller reports to Congress.

“I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the [special inspector general for pandemic recovery] to issue reports to the Congress without presidential supervision,” Trump wrote in the document.

The hearing will be held in a larger room than usual to comply with social distancing guidelines.

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