WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump brutally dismissed the intelligence community’s inspector general on Friday, setting aside an independent watchdog who played a central role in his removal as his White House fought against escalation of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump informed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday of his decision to fire Michael Atkinson, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press. Atkinson has handled the whistleblower’s complaint that triggered Trump’s dismissal last year.
The dismissal of Atkinson, part of a shake-up of the Trump intelligence community, puts the President’s indictment in the spotlight as his administration deals with the deadly spread of the coronavirus. As Trump removed Atkinson, the number of U.S. deaths from the virus surpassed 7,000.
Trump said in the letter that it is “vital” that he trusts the people named as inspectors general, and “this is no longer the case with this inspector general.”
He did not specify, except to say that “it is extremely important to promote the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and activities” and that inspectors general are essential to these objectives.
Atkinson was the first to inform Congress last year of an anonymous whistleblower complaint that described Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son. The complaint sparked a House investigation that ultimately resulted in Trump’s removal from office.
In letters to lawmakers in August and September, Atkinson said he thought the complaint was “urgent” and “credible”. But the acting director of national intelligence at the time, Joseph Maguire, said he didn’t believe it met the definition of “urgent,” and tried to withstand the Congressional complaint.
The complaint was finally released after a firestorm and revealed that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a call in July to investigate the Democrats. The House launched an investigation in September and, three months later, voted to remove Trump from office. The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump in February.
Trump said in the letter to the Senate that Atkinson will be removed from office in 30 days, the required time he must wait after informing Congress. He wrote that he would name someone “who has my complete confidence” at a later date.
According to two congressional officials, Atkinson has been placed on administrative leave, which means he will not be serving 30 days. One of the officials said that Atkinson was not informed of his eviction until Friday evening. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Atkinson’s administrative leave has not been announced.
The Democrats reacted quickly to the dismissal of Atkinson. The best Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Panel, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, said it was “unacceptable” for Trump to fire Atkinson amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We should all be deeply disturbed by the ongoing attempts to politicize the country’s intelligence agencies,” said Warner.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Who led the investigation into the impeachment of the House, said that “the President President’s death decision puts our country and national security even more in danger. “
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the layoff “threatens to have a deterrent effect on all those who wanted to tell the truth in power” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. Said Trump “sacked people for telling the truth”.
Michael Horowitz, Chairman of the Board of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency and Inspector General of the Department of Justice, criticized the dismissal of Atkinson and defended his management of the Ukrainian file.
“Inspector General Atkinson is known in the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism and commitment to the rule of law and its independent oversight,” said Horowitz.
Tom Monheim, a career intelligence professional, will become the Acting Inspector General of the intelligence community, according to an intelligence official who was not authorized to discuss personnel changes and spoke only under the guise of anonymity. Monheim is currently the General Counsel for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Atkinson’s shot is part of a larger reshuffle in the intelligence community. Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, was also fired by Trump and replaced by a Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell.
The intelligence community, which Trump has always viewed with skepticism, has been in turmoil amidst constant turnover. Atkinson is at least the seventh intelligence official to be sacked, ousted or sacked since last summer.
The office of the director of national intelligence, created to improve the coordination of the country’s 17 intelligence agencies after September 11, has been in turmoil since former director Dan Coats, who had a tense relationship with Trump, announced in July 2019 that he was retiring.
Trump has appointed representative John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to replace Coats, but his selection has come under heavy criticism from Democrats and a lukewarm response from some Republicans due to his lack of experience.
Trump removed Ratcliffe’s name from consideration shortly after his appointment, but then renewed his appointment in February. The Senate has not yet made progress on the appointment.
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Grenell could only hold office until March 11, unless the President formally appointed someone else to the position. So, by selecting Ratcliffe again, Grenell can stay up to 210 days while Ratcliffe makes his way through the Senate confirmation process, and for 210 days if senators reject Ratcliffe’s appointment.