President Donald Trump is firing the intelligence community’s top government watchdog, who just happens to be the man who kicked off Trump’s impeachment by alerting Congress about his call with the Ukrainian president.
Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, was central to Trump’s impeachment trial: he informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint that kicked the whole thing off. Now, as the coronavirus crisis claims the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Americans, Atkinson will be looking for a new job, according to a memo obtained by several news outlets and reviewed by VICE News.
The whistleblower complaint, which alleged that Trump had asked the Ukrainian president to interfere in the U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf, effectively led to the House’s investigation of the matter and to Trump’s impeachment trial.
“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,’’ Trump wrote in the letter dismissing Atkinson. “That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
The move to fire Atkinson prompted quick reprisals from top Democratic lawmakers, who criticized the president for firing a political opponent in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
“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,” Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee, said in a statement.
Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said that the president “fires people for telling the truth.”
The president has reportedly been talking privately about firing Atkinson for months. Atkinson, who’s served for 15 years in the Department of Justice, has thirty days to clean out his desk: he’ll be officially out of a job in a month, but has reportedly been placed on administrative leave effective immediately, according to the Washington Post.
Atkinson had kept a low profile during his tenure until the whistleblower complaint came across his desk. He felt that it was both “credible” and “urgent,” the two criteria that require the inspector general to notify Congress of a complaint. Trump, after bruising, months-long impeachment proceedings, was acquitted by the Senate in February.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, April 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)