During his Saturday coronavirus press briefing, President Donald Trump was asked to defend his firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. Trump called Atkinson – whom he appointed – “terrible” and “a total disgrace.”
Trump had fired Atkinson Friday evening, writing in a letter to congress that he no longer had confidence in Atkinson as an inspector general.
“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment … it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Trump wrote, as previously reported by The Daily Wire. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
On Saturday, Trump defended his decision to the press, saying Atkinson did “a terrible job” when he turned over a whistleblower complaint to congress that led to Democrats impeaching the president, Reuters reported.
“He took a fake report, and he brought it to Congress,” Trump said, referring to the fact that the whistleblower had no direct knowledge of what he was complaining about and was merely reporting rumors he had heard from other people – many of which ended up being false and others gravely misconstrued.
Atkinson had deemed the whistleblower complaint of “urgent concern” and sent it to a Democrat-controlled congress determined to remove the president from office. Then-Acting Direct of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, however, said Atkinson was not required by law to turn the complaint over to congressional Democrats.
Further, the complaint was filed 18 days after the allegedly egregious phone call where Trump allegedly demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to a transcript released by the White House, no quid pro quo took place and Zelensky said he felt no pressure from Trump to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter over their Ukraine dealings. Trump brought up the Bidens in his phone call with Zelensky, but didn’t directly ask for anything to be done.
Democrats ran with the whistleblower complaint and impeached the president. They then waited nearly a month to turn over the article of impeachment to the senate, even though they claimed the matter was of immediate concern. Democrats then asked Senate Republicans to investigate people and reports that they didn’t bother to look into while conducting their impeachment inquiry in the House. Republicans refused and acquitted Trump.
The president’s firing of Atkinson did lead to some senate Republicans worrying about the ramifications. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), noted that Trump has absolute firing authority but suggested IG’s should be independent.
“Like any political appointee, the inspector general serves at the behest of the Executive,” Burr said in a statement released Saturday. “However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has been loyal to Trump throughout his administration, was aggrieved by 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.”
For his part, Atkinson said in a statement on Sunday that he was fired for doing his job.
“It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General,” he said, as reported by Politico, “and from my commitment to continue to do so.”