Fine, who had returned to his prior job as the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general, said in a statement that “the time has come for me to step down and allow others” to step into the position. “The role of inspectors general is a strength of our system of government,” he said.
Fine’s removal coincided with a spate of dismissals of inspectors general across the government, including for the State Department, Health and Human Services Department, and intelligence community.
The ousters, which follow moves in the months since Trump’s impeachment to sideline officials whose loyalty has been questioned, have prompted an outcry from Democrats who alleged they were retribution for critical investigations.
In a statement, three Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, including its chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), issued statements denouncing what they described as unjustified actions against watchdogs.
“It is indeed regrettable that yet another superb and patriotic inspector general has been compelled to step down as a result of President Trump’s continued attacks on independent oversight,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee’s Subcommittee on National Security.
Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said Tuesday she had been expecting Fine’s resignation — but thought it might be accompanied by more of a sense of indignation.
“I was not surprised by Fine’s decision given his unceremonious removal by Trump,” she said. “But I was a little surprised that he didn’t take the opportunity to put a finer point on the outrage of how that went down.”
A former Rhodes scholar, Fine joined the Defense Department as principal deputy inspector general in 2015. From 2016 until last month, he served as the department’s top inspector general on an unconfirmed basis. In 2016, the Obama administration announced its intent to nominate Fine to be confirmed in the job, but he was never confirmed.
Before coming to the Pentagon, Fine served as Justice Department inspector general for over a decade.
Trump has nominated Jason Abend, a policy adviser at Customs and Border Protection, to be the Pentagon’s inspector general. The president appointed Fine’s counterpart at the Environmental Protection Agency, Sean O’Donnell, to also fill the role at the Pentagon until his pick can be confirmed.
While government inspectors general can be removed by the president, they have traditionally been seen as more independent than other political appointees.
Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, meanwhile has promised not to fire any inspectors general if he is elected.
Fine’s removal is expected to be a further blow to morale at the Pentagon inspector general office at a time when the staff is conducting oversight of the department’s coronavirus response in addition to the typical array of military activities.