WASHINGTON – In a video briefing Tuesday, a top watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services defended her office's report on "extreme shortages" of personal protective equipment and testing supplies at hospitals early in the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm told lawmakers the report on hospital conditions at the end of March offered "quick and reliable data from the ground" to support the department's operations and help hospitals prepare. She noted, though, that the report was just a "snapshot in time." The report drew fierce criticism from President Donald Trump when it was released, and Trump moved to replace Grimm a month later.
Grimm said she was in discussions with the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security for a joint investigation into the distribution of supplies from the national stockpile.
Asked by Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., whether hospitals had received sufficient support from the federal government, Grimm said, “We did find shortages of protective equipment – masks, gowns, and recorded expected shortages of ventilators,” but the government took steps to address the issues.
Democrats criticized the Trump administration for its moves to oust several inspectors general, including State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who had been investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's use of State Department staff to run personal errands for him and his wife.
In her opening remarks, Maloney called on the Trump administration to support inspectors general "It is our responsibility to protect inspectors general from political interference," she said.
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., asked Grimm if the federal government was exploring "reported cures" for the coronavirus such as "vitamin D or vitamin C plus zinc and that sort of thing"
Grimm replied that her office was not examining the effectiveness of treatments, but it found "quite a bit of fraud" enticing people to give up their Medicare number relating to claims that vitamin C would cure the coronavirus.
A USA TODAY fact check found the claim that vitamin C could cure the coronavirus was false.
Fact check: Could taking vitamin C cure – or prevent – COVID-19?
Addressing concerns about the inspector generals' independence, Grimm said anything that might impair independence would “compromise the effectiveness of oversight of programs that are there to serve the American public.”
"We’ll have your back on that," responded Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
More:Here are the government watchdogs the Trump administration moved to oust
The committee's top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, criticized Democrats for holding a virtual briefing and defended the administration's handling of Grimm's report, saying any allegation Grimm was fired for retaliation was "incorrect."
Grimm, a career official, joined the department's inspector general office in 1999. Her office released a report April 6 that surveyed conditions in hospitals from March 23-27 and detailed "severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results," as well as "widespread shortages of personal protective equipment (that) put staff and patients at risk." The report drew fierce criticism from Trump.
"It's just wrong," he said at a Coronavirus Task Force news conference April 6, blasting her on Twitter the following day for putting out "Another Fake Dossier."
On May 2, Trump announced his intent to replace Grimm as the HHS inspector general with attorney Jason Weida.
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