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Biden pledges to never fire government watchdogs, attacks Trump’s purge of inspectors general

Former vice president Joe Biden, seen here in 2017, answered questions in a virtual town hall organized by Yahoo on Tuesday. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Joe Biden pledged on Tuesday not to fire any inspectors general if he’s the president, taking a position counter to President Trump, who has ousted four agency watchdogs in recent months.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was asked about topics including “Obamagate,” Trump’s allegation that Obama administration officials were spying on his campaign, and hydroxychloroquine, the drug Trump thinks will ward off the novel coronavirus, during a wide-ranging town hall hosted by Yahoo.

Trump’s latest ouster — of Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general — angered Democrats, who are calling for a new system of congressional review before a president can fire an inspector general. Biden said he supported those efforts to restrict the executive branch’s ability to unilaterally remove inspectors general.

“Inspector generals were designed to make government honest. To keep it honest,” he said. “It’s a gigantic government. We have a thousand employees. It’s part of a troubling pattern since this whole covid crisis began.”

Trump began his inspectors general purge by firing Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community watchdog who passed along to Congress the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. He then demoted acting inspector general of the Department of Defense Glenn Fine, who had just been tapped to oversee a committee following the approval of $2 trillion in pandemic-related stimulus funds.

Earlier this month, he replaced Department of Health and Human Services watchdog Christi A. Grimm, who had released a report warning of shortages at hospitals as the country faced a global pandemic.

Biden also scoffed at Trump’s efforts to elevate a nonspecific scandal that Trump alleges involves Obama-era officials spying on him and his closest advisers during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is his pattern. Diversion, diversion, diversion, diversion, diversion. Don’t speak to whatever the issues before us are. My God, Obamagate,” Biden said.

Biden also slammed Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. for sharing a tweet accusing the former vice president of being a “pedophile,” calling it “sick.”

“But he is his father’s son,” Biden said. “Say it enough, like his father says, if you say it enough, people will believe it.”

Biden was critical of Trump’s response to the coronavirus, accusing the president of acting too late to get ahead of the outbreak. He referenced the daily intelligence briefings Trump received long before the first cases in the United States that warned of the threat.

“He either didn’t read them, or he ignored them. Either is a dereliction of his duty,” Biden said. At another point, he said, “The intelligence community didn’t fail. They told him! That’s all they can do. They didn’t fail. The president failed.”

When asked about Trump’s decision to take the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus preventive despite there being little medical evidence that it protects against the virus, Biden said, “Come on, man! What is he doing? What in God’s name is he doing?”