The outgoing inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community fired Friday by Donald Trump was legally required to alert Congress to a whistleblower complaint about the president’s troubling Ukraine phone call last year, he said in a statement Sunday.
Michael Atkinson said he was “legally obligated to ensure that whistleblowers had an effective and authorized means to disclose urgent matters.”
Trump has told aides he believed Atkinson was disloyal to him when he informed Congress of the complaint that led to the president’s impeachment.
The complaint revealed that Trump in a July call pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into unfounded accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. At the time, Trump was withholding military aid from Ukraine, a form of coercion for political gain that led to his impeachment in the House.
Trump informed the Senate Intelligence Committee Friday that Atkinson, whom he had appointed, was out. He said that inspectors general must have his “fullest confidence,” and that was “no longer the case” with Atkinson.
Trump is removing the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, per letter sent to lawmakers tonight. pic.twitter.com/myPDqoJ8G4
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) April 4, 2020
Atkinson replied in his statement Sunday that it is “hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligation as an independent and impartial Inspector General.”
He added that inspectors general “are able to fulfill their critical watchdog function because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress. Inspectors general … are not partisan.”
Laws protecting whistleblowers “made it clear that this was not a partisan issue, but a nonpartisan priority” to root out corruption, he noted. Atkinson said he took an oath when he became inspector general to “enforce a program for authorized disclosures … that validates moral courage without compromising national security and without retaliation.” He added: “I did what I said I would do.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called Trump’s “dead of night decision” to ax Atkinson a “blatant attempt to gut the independence of the Intelligence community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”
The firing was part of Trump’s brazen purge of those who exposed his secret negotiations with Ukraine’s president to target a political rival. In February, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran, was ejected from the National Security Council. Vindman had testified before the House about his knowledge of Trump’s disturbing call with Zelensky. He said he came forward out of a “sense of duty” because the call had “significant national security implications for our country.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: “I never thought I would be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public, about my actions. When I reported my concerns, my only thought was to act properly and to carry out duty.” #VindmanTestimony https://t.co/aLkMmy4bax pic.twitter.com/SajDZXkAsK
— The Hill (@thehill) November 20, 2019
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