The media have made such a hash of this thing, it takes patience to sort it out. That’s a common sign of Trump being over the target.
Here is the sequence of events as best I can make it out, with the hysteria removed. On 30 March, Glenn Fine, principal deputy inspector general and acting inspector general for the Department of Defense, was placed in the IG oversight role on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. This was done, reportedly (see links below), based on the proposal of a group of federal IGs.
On Friday 3 April, Trump nominated Brian Miller, former IG for the General Services Administration, to fill the IG role for the specially designated $500 billion coronavirus relief fund administered by the Treasury Department. Politico noted positive reactions to this nomination at the time.
On Monday 6 April, Trump nominated the selfsame Brian Miller to fill what appears to be the role Glenn Fine had been placed in on 30 March.
Meanwhile, back on Friday 3 April, Politico noted in the same story that Trump had nominated a permanent candidate for the DOD IG slot, Jason Abend, who has been a senior policy adviser to Customs and Border Protection. The EPA IG will be filling in as acting IG for the DOD until Abend is confirmed.
So we can clarify as of Monday evening that we already knew Glenn Fine would be replaced on the pandemic response committee; that the right people thought well of his replacement (Brian Miller); and that when he got back to DOD, his days as acting IG would be numbered. A new, permanent DOD IG had been nominated. Fine’s Senate-confirmed role at the Pentagon is principal deputy IG.
It’s necessary to keep this in mind as we survey the caterwauling that began immediately on Tuesday when it was announced that Glenn Fine was to be removed from the oversight committee for the coronavirus pandemic response.
If Fox News is correct, the EPA IG, who has become acting IG at the Pentagon, will also exercise temporary oversight on the pandemic response committee until Brian Miller is confirmed.
So Fine is now off the committee and no longer acting IG for DOD.
Frankly, this does look like a squeeze play sneaked past the media in plaint sight. That goes some way to explain the foaming at the mouth on Tuesday from Democrats and the left-wing media, who were beside themselves over Fine’s removal from the pandemic response committee, when they could very easily have foreseen it based on their own reporting.
It appears that they may have thought Glenn Fine would remain on the pandemic response committee until the Democrats were willing to dispense with him; or, failing that, that he would go back to acting DOD IG, at least until Jason Abend was confirmed. In either case, it was possible for the Senate Democrats to slow-roll one nomination or the other: either Brian Miller’s for the pandemic response committee, or Abend’s for DOD IG. Fine would have continued to hold a key position one way or the other, possibly for months.
Instead, Trump executed a by-the-book maneuver using his undoubted authorities as POTUS. He was aided by the group of IGs that independently proposed Fine for the pandemic response committee role. That proposal by the IGs met with acclaim from the mainstream media and most congressional Democrats. And once Fine had been vectored onto the committee, Trump put in the good-faith nominations that would make Fine’s services redundant across the board.
The questions ask themselves here. Why was the Left so eager to have Fine on the pandemic response committee? Why would Trump not want him there?
We can start to answer both questions by acknowledging that we already know why Trump had to pull a fast one to squeeze Fine out in full view of Washington’s jackal pack. It’s because he couldn’t have excluded Fine – which he has a perfect right to do – in any other way, and still get the necessary jobs done.
The Spygate connection
The reason Trump might want Fine out is the same reason Trump’s opponents would want Fine in. We have a couple of recent windows onto that reason, and both are very informative.
One is reporting done since mid-January by Susan Crabtree for Real Clear Politics. Her most recent article on 10 March is the starting point. In it, she recounts how the Trump administration has been taking a penetrating look at a number of the IGs in federal agencies. One of them is Glenn Fine, who has been dragging his heels on the whistleblower-reprisal case of Adam Lovinger.
Crabtree reminds us that Lovinger is “an ousted member of Trump’s National Security Council who has become a cause celebre among some of Trump’s closest allies and advisers.”
Fine’s role is unimpressive: “Lovinger, who was removed from Trump’s NSC early in the administration, has spent nearly three years on unpaid administrative leave and the last two waiting for acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was appointed by Obama, to wrap up the case and issue his final report.”
But the meat of the issue – as Spygate watchers will readily recall – is that what Lovinger was blowing the whistle on was the use of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment to pay Stefan Halper for the services he rendered to the Spygate operation against the Trump campaign.
That is what got Lovinger mistreated as a whistleblower, and why he’s been kept twisting in the wind by the acting DOD IG for the last two years.
The second window was previewed last fall, in reports that John Durham, the investigating attorney for Attorney General William Barr’s probe of Spygate, was looking hard at the Office of Net Assessment and what it had been doing. That effort has been underway since at least October. And that probably means enough is known at this point to make it a bad idea to put Glenn Fine where the Democrats clearly wanted him to be: overseeing the use of $2.2 trillion of Wheeeeeeee!!!!! Money.
I want to suggest at this point that the gravity of what Durham may have unearthed is exceptional. Publicly available information points to that, if we know how to see it. And the first stop is back with Susan Crabtree and her uniquely useful reporting.
IGs and coincidences
The 10 March RCP article does the signal service of mentioning another IG’s dubious activities: those of Ann Calvaresi Barr, the IG for USAID, the State Department’s foreign aid agency. Crabtree recounts that Calvaresi Barr has also failed to protect a whistleblower (a story Crabtree wrote up at greater length in January 2020). USAID, of course, has figured on the fringes of Spygate in the subplots of missing funds in Ukraine, and the persistent hand of Soros-funded groups in the background.
The whistleblower in this case is Mark Moyar, a Trump appointee who in Crabtree’s words has “reported allegations of rampant government waste, fraud and abuse at the agency.” Like Adam Lovinger, Moyar found himself retaliated against and suffered the loss of his security clearance. He is now suing for redress, as this renders him essentially unemployable in his field.
But there are factors beyond these similarities in the cases that make it worthwhile taking a closer look at these particular IGs. Crabtree’s inclusion of both of them is invaluable in this regard. She doesn’t mention these factors herself, but a little research turns them up.
As with so many things relating to Spygate, the factors make a set of intertwining coincidences that simply cannot be mere happenstance.
The “C’mon man!” timeline again
One day before Fine was nominated, another appointment of exceptional interest – and relevance – was made. In the DOD Office of Net Assessment, long presided over by Andrew Marshall (who was retiring at the age of 93), James Baker was appointed as Marshall’s successor on 14 May 2015.
Baker would be the head of ONA to whom Adam Lovinger made his appeals about misuse of assets and sweetheart deals for cronies. It would be Baker’s ONA that Fine was essentially protecting by ignoring ONA’s retaliation against Lovinger. (Michael Flynn’s defense also believes the ONA Baker leaked transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador to David Ignatius at the Washington Post. All else aside, if James Baker at ONA somehow gained access to those transcripts, that’s a huge problem, and one the DOD IG, or the Intelligence Community IG, could have spent their time on far more worthily than in the ways they have.)
This is one of the coincidences Durham has been investigating. Another involves Glenn Fine directly.
Intersectionality: The Spygate 2016 version
Fine, as his biographies attest, was the DOJ – Justice Department – IG from 2000 (when he was appointed by Bill Clinton) to 2011. So quite a few of the DOJ and FBI actors in Spygate knew him personally.
These actors apparently included Peter Strzok – and probably Lisa Page as well, although it is Strzok who refers in their text message exchanges to having a face-to-face meeting with him in 2016.
Before that reference, however, there was an earlier one, on 13 July 2016, in which the two alluded to a meeting between FBI General Counsel James Baker (not the ONA James Baker) and Fine. Lisa Page offered to find out from Baker what it was about. It’s not clear that this meeting had a relation to Spygate activities, although given the timing and the other relevant interactions of Spygate personalities (e.g., Stefan Halper’s ONA-funded efforts that summer, and Glenn Fine’s later investigation of Michael Flynn), it’s possible that Spygate was a topic.
15/ At some point, the DOD Inspector General Glenn Fine started looking into Baker. Did Strzok refer him? See this text from July 13 where Page talks about a meeting between Fine and Baker. pic.twitter.com/FvZTFV1BTv
— Nick Weil (@nick_weil) July 3, 2018
I don’t actually agree with this Twitter user’s analysis from 2018 about who was doing what, but the data point is worth including.
It’s the one from September 2016 that seizes attention, however. In his Washington Times article from 2018 (link above), Rowan Scarborough reports that Adam Lovinger was sending memos to ONA’s James Baker in the fall of 2016 about the fraud, waste, and abuse he was seeing at ONA. The earliest date Scarborough mentions is an email sent in September 2016.
Jeff Carlson picks up the tale here, in a more detailed treatment from August 2018. A strange incident in mid-September 2016 appeared to be the beginning of the retaliation against Lovinger. On 15 September, he boarded a flight headed for Hawaii, armed with a stack of professional papers to occupy his travel time with. He found that he had one paper marked “Classification Pending,” indicating that it could contain classified information.
Lovinger said later that he didn’t remember including it in his stack. Here is the odd passage that makes this incident very suspicious, especially to anyone who’s ever been a naval officer and traveled with classified material.
Lovinger discovered this paper while he was on the plane, and moved from his seat to a more private location (I’m presuming the head) to peruse it carefully and determine if any of it was, in fact, classified. He decided it wasn’t.
But there was a seatmate next to him:
Sitting next to Lovinger on the flight was Lt. Cmdr. J. Austin Maxwell. Maxwell observed what had transpired and would later note, “it was obvious to me [Mr. Lovinger] recognized his mistake and attempted to secure the document.” Lovinger was unaware Maxwell had seen the document, later telling investigators, “to his knowledge no one else had observed the document throughout its time in his possession.
The next day, Maxwell drafted a Memorandum for the Record and notified his superior who brought the matter to the attention of Capt. Dale Rielage. Rielage, in turn, notified Baker, Lovinger’s boss. Baker then confronted Lovinger regarding the incident. This sequence of events occurred on the same day.
As Carlson relates, Lovinger and Maxwell didn’t know each other when they boarded the plane. But apparently they discovered while chatting briefly together that they both worked in the DOD (Maxwell was on the Pacific Fleet staff).
So: they spoke to each other, and Maxwell saw Lovinger holding what may have been classified information in an unsecure location. Maxwell’s obligation, if he realized what he was looking at, is crystal clear, and he didn’t fulfill it. What he should have done was ask Lovinger – politely and quietly, of course – if that was classified information Lovinger was holding.
If Lovinger appeared evasive or uncooperative, then it would have been time to start making reports and alerting people. But the first requirement is to secure the classified information, if that’s what it is. Based on the Director of Net Assessment memo Carlson was working off of in his article, Maxwell made no attempt to do that.
This doesn’t smell right. (Honestly, it smells like horse manure.) It’s no fun to take on unplanned administrative crusades of this kind, but if you’re really as zealous about the security of classified material as Maxwell purported to be, you know your obligation is not to simply wait and rat someone out later. It’s to get the material secured.
Maxwell ratted Lovinger out later to his chain of command on the Pacific Fleet staff, which then proceeded to inform James Baker at ONA. (Apparently, LCDR Maxwell had gleaned enough information from the brief conversation on the plane to unerringly direct his bosses to an obscure office in the Pentagon.) I, on the other hand, would have offered to help Lovinger secure the paper, and make the proper report about it, as soon as the plane landed in Hawaii. Mr. Lovinger would then have owed me a steak dinner at the Royal Hawaiian.
The possibly classified paper was thus never secured, even though a competent officer had seen it in an unsecure condition, in the hands of a fellow DOD employee. James Baker confronted Lovinger about it after the paper had completed the trip with him.
These developments unfolded in the days immediately following 15 September 2016. So it is of great interest that Peter Strzok made reference in a text message to a talk with Glenn Fine at 1:45 on 20 September 2016, in company with “Baker.”
On Sept 20 2016, an extraordinary meeting occurred between Peter Strzok, Glenn Fine and “Baker.” pic.twitter.com/kPifS3fXiN
— ghost of daniel parker (@SeekerOTL) August 22, 2018
Whether the Baker in this case was Jim of the FBI or James of the ONA, the timing and the involvement of Glenn Fine are extraordinary.
Billions and billions
The third coincidence involves both of the IGs Susan Crabtree reports as dealing poorly with whistleblower-reprisal cases. Glenn Fine and Ann Calvaresi Barr weren’t just nominated to the their positions within days of each other in May 2015. They were also two of the three IG representatives who routinely make IG reports on the execution of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The other IG office is that of the State Department.
One of the OCOs this IG consortium routinely reports on is the one in Afghanistan. (See the “reports” link at the State Department website for others.) Afghanistan also has its own special IG, the Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), who makes reports as well, and has often had to convey the melancholy news that tens of billions of dollars have gone missing in Afghanistan yet again.
This minor detour is to provide the flavor of information that comes from IG reporting on OCOs. Hemorrhages of cash and property, and evidence of gross malfeasance against U.S. national policy, come up more than you might think, if you don’t follow these things. In December 2018, Jeff Carlson noted a particularly egregious situation in which the Special IG for Iraqi Reconstruction found, in 2011, that a UAE-based contractor had funneled U.S. supplies illegally through a shipment route in Iran. That contractor was nevertheless able to get another contract afterward, in 2013, having never been challenged by a U.S. agency.
The UAE contractor was reportedly a donor to the Clinton Foundation. Once Trump entered office, the DOJ discovered what the contractor had been doing and proceeded to indict him for it.
OCOs have been a bleeding wound of mislaid taxpayer money for some time, and the IG consortium that makes routine reports on them, on a regional basis, will see a lot of these untoward activities. What the IGs know about them and how they handle them are a significant concern not only for fiscal hygiene but for policy coherence.
Without laying any particular suspicions at Fine’s or Calvaresi Barr’s door, this is the magnitude of the work for which they had joint responsibility. It is with that in mind that we may consider at least two interesting facts about Fine’s profile as an IG.
A favorite IG of the “deep state” Left
One is from more than a decade ago, when he was the Justice Department IG. In an IG report very gratifying to the radical Left, Fine found that the Bush administration had engaged in “illegal” hiring practices in the DOJ Civil Rights Division, because it actually hired people who were not radical leftists.
Hans A. von Spakovsky, in January 2009, wrote a scathing but well-founded criticism of Fine’s report for the Heritage Foundation. The data point he established is that Fine is in fact swayed by ideological and partisan sentiments in his IG work; in this case, finding incorrectly that it is “illegal” to hire non-leftists in a division of the DOJ because leftists don’t like it.
The other data point is one much nearer in time. In December 2019, a few days after Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would draft impeachment charges against President Trump, Acting DOD IG Fine announced that he would be opening an investigation of whether Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the border was lawful.
This is basically just harassment; the DOD IG is not empowered to investigate presidential policy. The people, who elect the president every four years, are sovereign on that matter.
If Congress has a problem with presidential policy, it can use its own powers to seek remedies, and can apply to the Supreme Court on at least some issues. But Congress cannot confound presidential policy by goading an executive department IG into “investigating” it.
Fine was nevertheless willing to go along with such a plan. Now think about Fine exercising oversight for the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, with all its buried land mines and Easter eggs, some of them known only to House Democrats. Far from providing the “independent” oversight the editors in the Leftosphere claim to want, Fine would have been more likely to simply make his oversight as gratifying as possible to the Democrats on the Hill.
His pandemic response oversight role would certainly have made it more difficult for Durham to tax Fine with his activities from the Spygate period.
But don’t forget those bigger-picture coincidences. The operational maneuvers of 2015 and 2016 are important. But the most significant concern may well be the one we know the least about: the billions of dollars that went missing while whistleblowers were sounding the alarm, and the IGs with a propensity to keep the whistleblowers in suspended animation, their voices silenced and their cases unresolved. If Durham has made headway on that – and some of it is directly relevant to Spygate – it explains a lot.