Washington – Democrats reacted outraged to the abrupt dismissal of the inspector general of the United States intelligence services by Donald Trump. Michael Atkinson was an independent supervisor who played an essential role in the impeachment of the American president. Atkinson handled the anonymous complaint that led to the process last year.
Atkinson was the first to report to Congress on the anonymous whistleblower that Trump had pressured Ukraine to investigate Democratic pre-candidate Joe Biden and his son. The complaint led to an investigation by the lower house and finally the impeachment of the president.
Trump announced the firing on Friday night and Democrats reacted outraged in the ensuing hours. Senior Senate intelligence committee Democrat Mark Warner said it was “inconceivable” that Trump fired Atkinson amid the coronavirus pandemic.RELATED
“Constant attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies should deeply disturb us all,” Warner said.
The president of the intelligence commission of the Lower House, Adam Schiff, who led the investigation before the impeachment, said that “the decision made by the president in the middle of the night creates a greater risk for our country and national security.” The president of the chamber, Nancy Pelosi, said that the dismissal seeks “to intimidate all those who are willing to confront the powerful with the truth.” Additionally, the leader of the Democratic senators bloc, Chuck Schumer, said that “Trump fires people for telling the truth.”
Trump late Friday night informed the intelligence committees of both houses of his decision to fire Michael Atkinson, according to letters to which The Associated Press had access.
The dismissal is part of the general reorganization of the intelligence services by Trump, who has always looked suspiciously at professionals in the sector.
The president says in the letter that it is “vital” that he has confidence in the inspectors general and that “this is no longer the case with respect to this inspector general.”
Without going into detail, he said that “it is extremely important that we promote the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of federal programs and activities” and that the inspectors general are crucial to those ends.
The head of the council representing inspectors general from all sectors of government said Atkinson stood out for his “integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight,” an implicit hint that Trump’s criticism stems of a sense of loss of loyalty of an official who is supposed to be independent.
Trump said in the letter that Atkinson will leave office in 30 days, the legal deadline after reporting to Congress. He added that he will later designate an individual “who enjoys my full confidence.”
According to two legislative sources, Atkinson is under administrative license, which means that he will not hold the position during those 30 days. One of the sources said Atkinson learned of his dismissal on Friday night. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in anticipation of the official’s license announcement.
Atkinson briefed lawmakers in September on the existence of the complaint against Trump, which he deemed “urgent” and “credible,” but acting director of national intelligence at the time, Joseph Maguire, said he did not meet the definition of “urgent.” and tried to hide it from Congress.
Following a scandal, the complaint was released, which revealed that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call to investigate Biden and his son. The lower house launched an investigation in September and three months later voted for Trump’s impeachment, which the Republican majority in the Senate acquitted last February.
Michael Horowitz, chairman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, a Justice Department inspector general esteemed by lawmakers from both parties, criticized Atkinson’s dismissal and defended his handling of the Ukrainian case.
“The community of inspectors general will continue to monitor (government) agencies aggressively and independently,” it said in a statement.