- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Top House Republicans demanded answers Tuesday from the Justice Department over President Biden’s new pandemic prosecutor, who was tapped earlier this year to take control of investigations into hundreds of billions of dollars the government paid in suspected fraudulent coronavirus-related claims.

The GOP lawmakers said that despite the administration’s bold pronouncements, Mr. Biden didn’t request any funding for the pandemic prosecutor in his new budget.

And the lawmakers said they’re struggling to figure out what role Kevin Chambers, the associate deputy attorney general who was tapped for the post, will play, given the hundreds of cases already brought by U.S. attorneys throughout the country.

“The greatest theft of taxpayer dollars in our lifetime has fueled the inflation crisis, obstructed legitimate payments to unemployed workers, and turned thousands of Americans into unwitting identity-theft victims,” said Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, who was joined in the call for answers by the ranking Republicans on the Budget, Judiciary and Small Business committees.

The Washington Times has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

The alleged fraud dates back to the very first days of the pandemic, as Congress and former President Donald Trump opened the government’s checkbook to pour trillions of dollars into Americans’ pockets through enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded health coverage or payments to keep businesses afloat and prevent an economy-wide meltdown.

SEE ALSO: Peter Navarro, ex-Trump aide, says he was subpoenaed by grand jury, sues Jan. 6 committee and Pelosi

Mr. Biden and Congress delivered another $1.9 trillion package early last year, shipping aid directly to states to spend on their needs. Economists say the federal money contributed to major job creation and a quick rebound in U.S. growth rates in 2021.

But lawmakers knew they were erring on the side of speed, short-circuiting usual eligibility checks to get the money out the door — and inviting new levels of fraud.

Estimates of bogus payments from unemployment benefits run to as much as 40% of the nearly $900 billion spent during the pandemic, with a large percentage of the fraud perpetrated by overseas criminal syndicates.

“Unfortunately, Democrats in Washington have ignored this problem and refused to hold even a single oversight hearing,” Mr. Brady said.

The new pandemic prosecutor’s post is supposed to be Democrats’ answer to the large-scale fraud. The Justice Department said Mr. Chambers is charged with focusing on large-scale criminal operators, and particularly foreign syndicates.

While the Justice Department has brought hundreds of criminal cases, including some high-profile prosecutions of grifters, it has struggled to get at the big chunks of money that are believed to have flowed overseas.

And clawing the money back has proved to be nearly impossible.

The inspector general at the Labor Department, which oversees the unemployment program, reported last week that it recovered $90 million in clawbacks, fines, penalties and forfeitures from Oct. 1 to March 31.

The Congressional Budget Office says the government will still be spending money from pandemic-related legislation into the 2030s.

Republicans on Tuesday said that suggests the pandemic prosecutor’s job may need to become a permanent position at the Justice Department.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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