The intelligence community inspector general fired by Donald Trump is pushing back, saying that he was removed from his position after fulfilling legal obligations to bring forward a complaint that led to the president’s impeachment.
Michael Atkinson was fired by Trump on Friday, months after he forwarded a complaint to Congress regarding the president’s actions to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on political opponent Joe Biden. As The Hill reported, Atkinson responded in a statement sent to reporters on Sunday night that said he believes Trump fired him simply because he followed the legal process for forwarding whistleblower complaints.
“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, and from my commitment to continue to do so,” Atkinson said.
The statement added that he was legally obligated to ensure whistleblowers could disclose matters involving classified information to congressional intelligence committees, while protecting their identities to guard against reprisal. Some members of the Republican Party — including many close to Trump — have been accused of trying to reveal the identity of the whistleblower.
The complaint became a matter of contention in the weeks after it was first lodged, as the Trump administration reportedly took action to stop it from being forwarded to Congress. But Atkinson deemed the complaint an “urgent” matter and sent it along, ultimately leading to an investigation that ended with Trump’s impeachment in the House and acquittal in a Senate vote that followed mostly along party lines.
In his statement on Friday, the president noted he had the power to appoint or fire the inspector general, saying he no longer has confidence in Atkinson’s work. Trump said the inspector general will be removed from his post within 30 days.
The president had already moved to fire or reassign others who played a role in the impeachment inquiry, including removing impeachment witness Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post inside the White House. The administration went so far as to escort Vindman and his twin brother — who worked in another part of the White House — off the grounds. Just hours after Vindman was reassigned, Trump announced he was recalling fellow impeachment witness Gordon Sondland from his role as ambassador to the European Union.
Trump has maintained that he did nothing wrong in asking the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation of Biden, calling the impeachment process a politically motivated witch hunt and expressing vindication in his acquittal.