Trump Fires Watchdog Who Flagged Whistle-Blower’s Complaint
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg)

Trump Fires Watchdog Who Flagged Whistle-Blower’s Complaint

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(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump fired the U.S. intelligence community inspector general who raised the alarm over a whistle-blower’s complaint that led ultimately to Trump’s impeachment.

Michael Atkinson alerted Congress about the complaint regarding Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. He later testified in the House impeachment inquiry.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A top federal watchdog, Michael Horowitz, on Saturday praised Atkinson and promised “aggressive” oversight of government agencies.

Trump notified the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee of his decision in a letter late Friday. The president wrote that “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 his inspector general.”

Atkinson would be removed in 30 days according to the letter, addressed to Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican; Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat; House Chairman Adam Schiff and ranking member Devin Nunes, both of California.

Democrats Furious

Congressional Democrats expressed fury late Friday night, with Warner pointing out that the firing occurred as the coronavirus pandemic has paralyzed much of the country.

“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 intelligence official simply for doing his job,” Warner said in a statement. “We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies.”

The firing was reported on the same night that Trump announced that he intended to nominate a White House lawyer to the newly created post of inspector general to oversee hundreds of billions of dollars in spending on the coronavirus response.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Atkinson “is a man of integrity who has served our nation for almost two decades. Being fired for having the courage to speak truth to power makes him a patriot.”

Known for Integrity

Michael Horowitz, inspector general at the Department of Justice, said in a statement that Atkinson was known for “integrity, professionalism and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight.”

The IG community will continue “aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee,” said Horowitz, who also chairs the Council of the Inspector Generals on Integrity and Efficiency, an independent agency within the executive branch. That will include the more than $2 trillion in emergency federal spending to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Atkinson, who joined the Justice Department after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and worked in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, last August received the whistle-blower complaint’s about a telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The whistle-blower, who works in the intelligence community and whose identity has never been made public, reported receiving information that the president was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

Atkinson interviewed several government officials and determined the allegation to be “credible” and “of urgent concern,” forwarding it to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

Acting on Justice Department guidance, Maguire declined to forward the complaint to the Senate and House intelligence committees, as required by law. The department argued that the complaint concerned the president, who isn’t under the jurisdiction of the intelligence watchdog.

Notified Congress

Atkinson then notified Congress of the situation, and the Trump administration eventually released the complaint along with a write-up of the July 25 call, touching off an investigation that led to Trump’s impeachment by the U.S. House and trial in the Senate, in which he was acquitted early this year.

After the trial, Trump swiftly ousted members of his administration who had testified in the House inquiry, including Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the White House National Security Council and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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