- President Donald Trump removed the intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson on Friday evening, and his dismissal will be effective in 30 days, CNN reported.
- In his letter to the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump said he no longer had the “fullest confidence” in Atkinson and will nominate a successor at a later date.
- Atkinson made headlines last year when it surfaced that he alerted Congress about a whistleblower’s complaint that accused the president of soliciting foreign election interference.
- The New York Times reported in November that Trump had repeatedly discussed firing Atkinson because he blamed the official for the impeachment inquiry and believed him to be disloyal.
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President Donald Trump informed the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday that he had removed the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson,CNN reported.
Atkinson’s dismissal will be effective in 30 days, according to Trump’s letter, which was obtained by CNN.
In his April 3 letter, Trump did not give specify why he was firing Atkinson. Instead, he stressed his right to do so, writing that “it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. This is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
The president added that he will nominate a successor “who has my full confidence” at a later date.
Atkinson made headlines last year when it surfaced that he alerted Congress to a whistleblower’s complaint against Trump that accused the president of violating campaign finance law and soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.
That complaint became the catalyst for a congressional investigation and impeachment inquiry that charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Trump was later acquitted by the Senate on both articles of impeachment.
Atkinson submitted the whistleblower’s complaing to then acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire on August 26 after determining it was credible and a matter of “urgent concern.”
Federal law mandates that the DNI transmit to Congress any complaint deemed urgent and credible, but Maguire did not do so after consulting with the White House and Justice Department lawyers. DOJ officials told Maguire that he was not required to submit the complaint to Congress because its subject – Trump – did not fall under the DNI’s purview.
After Maguire refused to turn the complaint over, Atkinson informed Congress himself on September 9.
At the centre of the whistleblower’s complaint and the impeachment inquiry were Trump’s efforts to strongarm Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July 25 phone call into launching politically motivated investigations targeting Trump’s rivals while withholding vital military aid and a White House meeting Zelensky desperately sought.
A slew of witness testimony in the investigation revealed that the phone call was just one data point in a months-long effort by Trump and his allies to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over allegations of corruption. Trump also wanted Zelensky to look into a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election.
Atkinson became a target of Trump’s ire after it was publicly revealed in September that he informed Congress about the whistleblower’s complaint. The New York Times reported in November that Trump had repeatedly discussed firing Atkinson because he blamed the official for the impeachment inquiry.
According to the report, Trump didn’t understand why Atkinson had alerted Congress about the complaint and believed it showed Atkinson was disloyal. The president also attacked Atkinson publicly and in the middle of his impeachment inquiry.
“ICIG Michael Atkinson facing serious questions,” Trump tweeted in January, along with a quote from House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes suggesting Atkinson was engaged in a Democratic anti-Trump conspiracy. “The ICIG never wanted proof!”
Several lawmakers and government officials weighed in on Atkinson’s ouster after news of Trump’s letter broke.
Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, praised Atkinson’s “integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight” in a statement. He also defended Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower’s complaint, emphasising Maguire’s congressional testimony in which he said Atkinson actions were “by the book” and consistent with the law.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lawmaker who led the impeachment inquiry, excoriated Trump’s decision to oust Atkinson as “yet another blatant attempt” to “gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer similarly defended Atkinson, calling him 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,” Schumer added.
Atkinson isn’t the first casualty of the impeachment investigation.
In the days after his Senate trial, the president ousted two key witnesses who testified against him as well as the twin brother of one of the witnesses, who was not involved in the investigation.
In February, Axios reported that John McEntee, who heads up the presidential personnel office, called in White House liaisons from various federal agencies and asked them to root out political appointees across the government who were thought to be anti-Trump.
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