Video file

Citation From the May 18, 2020, edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom

JIM SCIUTTO (ANCHOR): What's your reaction to this? Because as you look and as you know, this is -- it's not the first time this has happened. You have the State Department IG fired while looking into the secretary of State. You had the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, he was removed and he's, of course, the one who alerted lawmakers to the first whistleblower complaint of the Ukraine call and alleged quid pro quo. The Department of Defense Glenn Fine, he was going to oversee the pandemic stimulus bill pushed out, and the HHS IG& Christi Grimm, she'd reported that hospitals were struggling to respond to the coronavirus.

Are you concerned about this pattern at all?


What I think you need to understand and what I think the public needs to understand is what the role of the inspector general is. It's to root out waste, fraud, and abuse. And, really, what the job is statutorily is to deal with waste of money within the agency. And let's remember, these inspectors general report to the agency head -- they do not report independently to anyone else. They do not report to Congress. They report to the agency head to tell the agency head when money is being misspent within the agency.

They're also removable at will by the president of the United States. Of course, there is a notice provision, only for those that are confirmed by the Senate. So up until Linick, the other folks who had been dismissed were folks that were not confirmed by the Senate and were serving in an acting role.

And you know I have to --

SCIUTTO: Well, maybe that --

SCHULTZ: I have to note that Obama kept most of his -- most of his inspectors general were in acting roles just for that purpose, so that they didn't have to go through a process of notifying Congress.

SCIUTTO: OK, well, you know as well as I that there are a number of acting officials in the Trump administration. But I want to give you Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley's response to this. He says, quote, “A general lack of confidence simply is not sufficient detail to satisfy Congress." Now, I'll just remind you that the whistleblower law was actually enhanced in 2012, initially passed in 1998. But when it was passed with specific protections for inspectors general to be independent, it was passed by unanimous consent. I mean there was -- there was no one Republican or Democrat who voted against that.

SCHULTZ: No, no, it wasn't passed that they are an independent fourth branch of government, Jim. That's absolutely wrong. They report directly to the agency.

SCIUTTO: I didn't say independent fourth branch of government. I said that they have independence. That's the nature of the role, right, that -- that they're not designed to do what the president wants them to do.

SCHULTZ: The nature of the role is that they have to be free to investigate -- investigate within that narrow focus of waste, fraud, and abuse within the agency. These folks are not independent prosecutors. They're not law enforcement. They are -- they are folks deemed within the agency with the job of rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. And that's the job.

And to the extent that you have to notify Congress, that's the provision that you have to notify Congress and there's -- that you're dismissing these folks, which makes sense because of the role that they play and the fact that they were confirmed by Congress.

SCIUTTO: Would you, as a lawyer, be uncomfortable with, for instance, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, recommending the removal of an IG who was conducting an investigation that involved him at the same time? Would that present a conflict of interest to you?

SCHULTZ: Look, this is a -- look, we don't -- we don't know what the context of that was. And I have to tell you, Jim, at this -- at -- I'm not concerned about that at all, and here's why. The issue here is -- I'm sure there's complaints that are made day in and day out within that department relative to a number of high-level officials. You can't be hamstrung with running your agency. And earlier you said that, you know, your -- the commentator before me said they've run an agency. They don't run anything. They report to the secretary. And in this particular instance, I'm sure that there have been complaints made, but you have to have the freedom to run your agency and move people along that you want to move along.

SCIUTTO: Well, what's wrong with, for instance, the HHS inspector general, in the midst of a pandemic, saying that hospitals were struggling with shortage of testing supplies? Why is that a problem?

SCHULTZ: I don't know, Jim. I think -- I think the question becomes, what -- who do they want in that job during the pandemic.

SCIUTTO: She was removed. She was removed following making the complaint.

SCHULTZ: And I got to tell you, what does that have to do with waste, fraud and abuse within the agency? Could you tell me that?

SCIUTTO: Why wouldn't that be -- well, the -- if the inspector -- well, the definition of that, even according to Republican senators, includes more than your very narrow definition. But, remember, she was removed immediately after making a complaint, not a complaint, just raising alarm about a shortage health supplies, which is a fact. What-- why would --


SCHULTZ: Well, what does that have to do with how the -- how the agency is spending its money? The bottom line, Jim, is they have the right --

SCIUTTO: So you think she should have been removed for that?

SCHULTZ: They have the right to remove those inspectors general. That person was sitting in an acting role. And that -- and Obama put a lot of those folks in acting roles and didn't have them confirmed. So there's nothing new here. Folks get moved around.

SCIUTTO: Well, didn't remove them, though.

SCHULTZ: Now, you know, it happened in the Reagan administration. Obama dismissed some. Bush dismissed some. Came under some fire for it. Of course Congress is going to raise an eyebrow when inspectors general get dismissed.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well --

SCHULTZ: That's part of politics in Washington.

SCIUTTO: Not on a series of late Friday nights, I mean, to be fair. But, Jim Schultz, always good to have you on.

SCHULTZ: Well, let's not make it look like a massacre, Jim. This person need -- want -- they wanted to remove them. They removed them on a Friday afternoon. I'm sure there's a lot of companies that remove -- private sector companies and government agencies that remove people on a Friday afternoon.

SCIUTTO: All right, we'll let the viewers make their own judgment.