“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment … it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Trump wrote. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
The announcement that he’s firing Atkinson late on a Friday night comes as the President is dealing with a worldwide pandemic from the novel coronavirus, which has consumed his presidency since the end of the impeachment trial only two months ago. Trump has faced widespread criticism for the federal government’s response to the outbreak, and has said the impeachment trial “probably did” distract him from responding to the virus’ outbreak during the trial in January and early February.
Atkinson’s firing is the latest case of the Trump administration removing officials who took part in the President’s impeachment. Trump also removed Alexander Vindman, a then-National Security Council official who had testified in the House’s proceedings, along with Vindman’s twin brother, both of whom were reassigned out of the NSC, and fired then-US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Trump also fired former FBI Director James Comey in 2017 while the FBI was investigating the President.
Top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence committees blasted the move.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California, who led the House’s impeachment investigation, said the firing was “another blatant attempt by the President to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”
“This retribution against a distinguished public servant for doing his job and informing Congress of an urgent and credible whistleblower complaint is a direct affront to the entire inspector general system,” Schiff said in a statement.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the President is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another an intelligence official simply for doing his job.”
Atkinson came under fire from the President’s allies last year for alerting lawmakers to the then-unknown whistleblower complaint, which Congress later learned was an allegation that Trump had sought dirt on his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden from Ukraine’s President while withholding US security aid from Kiev.
The allegation sparked a House impeachment inquiry that detailed the quid pro quo effort and led to Trump’s impeachment in December on two articles. The Senate acquitted Trump on both charges in February.
Atkinson said he had shared the complaint with Congress because he found it rose to the level of an “urgent concern,” clashing with his boss, then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, over the determination.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.