President Donald Trump on Friday continued his campaign of retaliation against those who played a role in his impeachment by firing the intelligence community’s chief watchdog, Michael Atkinson, who was the first to sound the alarm to Congress last September about an “urgent” complaint he’d received from an intelligence official involving Trump’s communications with Ukraine’s president.
Trump formally sent a letter to the Senate and House intelligence committees notifying them of his intention to fire Atkinson and remove him from his duties, NBC News reports.
“This is to advise that I am exercising my power as President to remove from office the Inspector Trump said in the letter that he “no longer” has the fullest confidence in Atkinson. “As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as president, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General,” he wrote. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
Trump added that he would be submitting a new nominee for the position to the Senate “at a later date.”
In a statement, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) described the firing as “retribution” and called it “yet another blatant attempt by the President to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”
“At a time when our country is dealing with a national emergency and needs people in the Intelligence Community to speak truth to power, the President’s dead of night decision puts our country and national security at even greater risk,” Schiff added.
The whistleblower complaint effectively kicked off the House’s impeachment inquiry, which began in late September amid allegations that Trump had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election when he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, including Joe Biden.
Atkinson opposed then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s decision to withhold the whistleblower complaint from the House and Senate intelligence committees — in particular, Maguire’s decision to seek guidance on the issue from the Justice Department, rather than turn it over to Congress as required by law.
The issue of whistleblower protection was a central focus of Atkinson’s confirmation hearing, where he pledged to establish “a safe program where whistleblowers do not have fear of retaliation and where they’re confident that the system will treat them fairly and impartially.”