SEC Removes Trump-Appointed Audit Watchdog

June 5, 2021 Updated: June 6, 2021

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on June 4 announced the firing of William Duhnke, the chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).

The removal of Duhnke, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, follows demands from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for SEC Chairman Gary Gensler to sack the entire oversight board. Warren and Sanders alleged in a letter (pdf) on May 25 that the board’s oversight ability has been “compromised” by the prior administration.

The SEC designated Duane DesParte to serve as the acting chairman of PCAOB. The commission also announced that it would seek to fill all five of the seats on the board.

“I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners, Acting Chair DesParte, and the staff of the PCAOB to set it on a path to better protect investors by ensuring that public company audits are informative, accurate, and independent,” Gensler said in a statement.

The PCAOB was established by Congress in the wake of the record-setting bankruptcies of WorldCom and Enron in 2002. The board is tasked with overseeing audits of public companies with the goal of protecting investors.

DesParte, a certified public accountant, was appointed as a member of the board by the SEC in December 2017. He was sworn in the following April. Prior to joining the board, DesParte served as corporate controller of Exelon, an Illinois energy producer with deep ties to former President Barack Obama. A lobbyist for Exelon once called it “the president’s utility,” according to The New York Times.

“I am honored to work with the SEC and the staff of the PCAOB as Acting Chair to ensure that we meet the mission established by Congress,” DesParte said in a statement.

While the SEC didn’t disclose the breakdown of the vote, Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman, the Republican members of the five-person commission, said in a statement that Duhnke’s ousting established a “troubling precedent.”

Former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton overhauled the PCAOB in 2017, appointing five new members, including Duhnke, after the board’s staff leaked confidential information to one of the audit firms it oversees.

Warren celebrated news of the firing on Twitter.

“Absolutely the right move,” she wrote. “William Duhnke was a Trump crony who undermined the PCAOB’s work. Our auditing process needs to be independent and with integrity. Let’s replace the other members with people who live up to the agency’s mission.”

The Epoch Times attempted to reach Duhnke for comment.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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