President Trump fired the intelligence community inspector general who dealt with the a whistleblower complaint that helped spark an impeachment investigation.
Congress was notified by the White House on Friday evening that the watchdog, Michael Atkinson, was being removed because of a lack of confidence in his ability to perform his duties.
“This is to advise that I am exercising my power as President to remove from office the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, effective 30 days from today,” Trump announced in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, adding, “As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as president, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
Trump said he would submit a replacement “who has my full confidence and who meets the appropriate qualifications” at a later date.
Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff immediately blasted Trump’s decision, tweeting, “Trump’s dead of night decision to fire ICIG Michael Atkinson is another blatant attempt to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.” The California Democrat said the move “puts our country and national security at even greater risk.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said,“In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another an intelligence official simply for doing his job.” Warner said that “the work of the intelligence community has never been about loyalty to a single individual; it’s about keeping us all safe from those who wish to do our country harm.” He said that “we should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies.”
Atkinson was picked by Trump for the post in November 2017 following a decade and a half at the Department of Justice. The intelligence community inspector general works under the auspices of the Director of National Intelligence, helping carry out internal investigations in the spy agencies and handling whistleblower complaints from across the intelligence agencies. Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration with the way Atkinson handled a Ukraine-related whistleblower complaint last year.
Atkinson determined the complaint to be “urgent” and “credible.” He forwarded the complaint to then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who did not give Atkinson permission to share it with Congress after seeking guidance from the White House and Justice Department, but did allow him to notify them of its existence.
Following a clash over access with Democratic lawmakers, led by Schiff, the complaint was declassified on Sept. 25, the same day the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call was released, and it was made available to the public the next day.
This sparked what would become the impeachment fight. Trump was impeached by the House in December on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was acquitted on both articles of impeachment by the Senate following a trial in February.
The whistleblower’s attorney, Mark Zaid, called the firing “disgraceful” and said it “undermines integrity” of the whistlerblower system. He also called for Republicans to “speak out” against Trump.
“Intelligence Committee Republicans have repeatedly stated our concerns about the abnormalities in Atkinson’s handling of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, and during our investigation he failed to alleviate any of those concerns,” Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Republicans raised concerns about the timing of changes to the whistleblower complaint form, but Atkinson defended the filing process, claiming the intelligence community has the authority to launch investigations based on second-hand information and that the change in form had no direct connection to the timing of the whistleblower complaint on Aug. 12.
The Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel issued a statement at the time saying it believed the whistleblower complaint did not possess an “urgent concern.”
In the call, immediately after Zelensky expressed interest in purchasing anti-tank weaponry known as Javelins from the United States, Trump asked Zelesnky “to do us a favor though” and look into CrowdStrike and any possible Ukrainian election interference in 2016. Trump urged Zelensky later in the call to investigate “the other thing,” referring to allegations of corruption related to Joe and Hunter Biden, telling Zelesnky to speak with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.