Donald Trump defended his decision to fire Intelligence Inspector General Michael Atkinson, calling him a “disgrace to IGs.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was not amused.
Trump’s dead of night decision to fire ICIG Michael Atkinson is another blatant attempt to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.
It puts our country and national security at even greater risk. pic.twitter.com/Pnm7chdIkl
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) April 4, 2020
Schiff, a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, strongly criticized Trump in a recent interview with MSNBC. The congressman warned that the president was “retaliating” against perceived enemies and placing “cronies” to lead oversight, all while the nation is reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is a real threat to the independence of the intelligence community,” Schiff argued, listing all the people from the intelligence community that have been fired or have resigned under Trump’s presidency. “So he’s decapitating the leadership of the intelligence community in the middle of a national crisis. It’s unconscionable,” he said.
Personal loyalty is of paramount importance to Trump and most intelligent people aren’t prone to giving their loyalty to a temporary occupant of the White House — even if he is the president. It shouldn’t matter as long as the replacements are competent and do their jobs.
Trump made it clear that “confidence” in executive department employees matters most to him.
“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have 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,” Trump said in the letter. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”
“That’s my decision, I have the absolute right,” Trump told reporters Saturday.
Trump’s legendary habit of getting rid of people who cross him isn’t illegal. But Atkinson’s supposed partisanship has never been proved, and once the whistleblower’s complaint was made, he had no option but to set the machinery in motion for the IG office to investigate the claim.
You can argue the validity of the complaint, not Atkinson’s duty under the law to investigate it.
Trump fired Atkinson because he wouldn’t drop the investigation and name the whistleblower.
“I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible,” Trump said on Saturday. “He took a whistleblower report that turned out to be a fake report, it was fake…he took a fake report and he brought it to Congress with an emergency — not a big Trump fan that I can tell you.”
Trump also took aim once again at the anonymous whistleblower, calling him a “fake whistleblower.”
“And frankly somebody ought to sue his a– off,” he said.
Again, Trump is apparently unaware of the whistleblower statute that gives Atkinson very little choice in the matter. That’s the purpose of the statute — to take the decision to investigate out of his hands and make it automatic.
Trump can hire and fire anyone in the executive branch. He doesn’t need a reason either. He’s done nothing illegal. It may have given the opposition an opening to criticize him, but it’s a tempest in a teapot that will be forgotten in a week.