President Donald Trump has defended his decision to fire the top watchdog of the US Intelligence Community, saying Michael Atkinson did “a terrible job” in handling the whistleblower complaint that triggered an impeachment probe of Trump last year.
“He took a fake report, and he brought it to Congress,” Trump said on Saturday during a briefing on the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Late on Friday, the White House told Atkinson, the Intelligence Community’s inspector general, that he would be terminated from his position in 30 days.
He was a key figure in the run-up to impeachment, having found credible a complaint from a still-unnamed whistleblower within the administration that Trump abused his office in attempting to solicit Ukraine’s interference in the 2020 US election for his political benefit.
The president complained that after receiving the complaint, Atkinson did not come and speak to him about it at the White House.
“He’s a total disgrace,” Trump said, also lambasting the whistleblower as “fake” and politically biased. “Frankly, somebody ought to sue his ass off,” he said.
Atkinson’s firing prompted concerns among some Congressional Republicans and criticism from Democrats.
US Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Atkinson, while noting Trump has the authority to fire him.
“Like any political appointee, the inspector general serves at the behest of the Executive,” Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, said in a statement on Saturday.
The Trump administration needs to stop using a global pandemic as cover for political revenge. It’s corrupt—and it threatens our national security. https://t.co/Jt9S2v8p9N
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 4, 2020
“However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure.”
‘More details needed’
US Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, demanded a better explanation for Atkinson’s firing.
“Congress has been crystal clear that written reasons must be given when IGs are removed for a lack of confidence,” he said. “More details are needed from the administration.”
Trump is trying to scare the watchdog community, said Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee.
“He’s decapitating the leadership of the intelligence community in the middle of a national crisis,” he said.
“It’s unconscionable, and of course it sends a message throughout the federal government and particular to other inspectors general.”