The intelligence community watchdog removed abruptly late Friday by President Donald Trump says he believes Trump ousted him because of his evenhanded handling of a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president's impeachment.
"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," Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general said in a statement Sunday, "and from my commitment to continue to do so."
Atkinson was the federal official who revealed to Congress in September the existence of a whistleblower complaint against Trump, which indicated that the president improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. When Atkinson sought to share that complaint with Congress under a federal whistleblower law, the White House and Justice Department intervened and blocked the transmission of the complaint for days.
Ultimately, amid withering pressure, Trump provided the whistleblower complaint to Congress, as well as a transcript of a July 2019 call with Ukraine's president, two pieces of evidence that became crucial factors in the House's decision to impeach Trump for abuse of power. The Senate later acquitted him on a nearly party-line vote.
"As an Inspector General, I was legally obligated to ensure that whistleblowers had an effective and authorized means to disclose urgent matters involving classified information to the congressional intelligence committees, and that when they did blow the whistle in an authorized manner, their identities would be protected as a guard against reprisals," Atkinson said in his statement. "Inspectors General are able to fulfill their critical watchdog functions because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress."
Trump informed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees late Friday that he would be removing Atkinson after a required 30-day wait. But Atkinson was immediately placed on administrative leave, according to congressional sources, effectively circumventing the one-month delay. The move has prompted some Senate Republicans to demand more details about Atkinson's removal.
Sadly, Trump now has the perfect political cover to make sure his retribution against Atkinson goes unpunished. Congress is going to have a much bigger problem on its hands in April than a fired Inspector General. It's worth noting that under nearly any other scenario, Trump would be getting fried right now by the press over this, but Congress is in recess, and frankly nobody has time right now with a deadly pandemic killing thousands of Americans daily.
Just another day in the Trump regime, I suppose.