President Donald Trump has fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community (ICIG) who handled the anonymous whistleblower complaint that triggered the House Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against the president.
In a letter to the Senate intelligence committee on Friday, Trump said that he would remove Atkinson from office “effective 30 days from today.”
“It is extremely important that we promote the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of federal programs and activities,” Trump wrote.
“The inspectors general have a critical role in the achievement of these goals,” he continued.
“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.”
“That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general,” Trump said in the letter, referring to Atkinson.
Trump said he will later nominate another individual to the position.
Trump nominated Atkinson in November 2017 for the ICIG post.
“Mr. Atkinson has served as an Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General (AAG) of the National Security Division (NSD) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) since 2016,” the White House said when announcing Atkinson’s nomination.
In August 2019, Atkinson received a complaint from a mysterious whistleblower regarding Trump’s July 25, 2019, telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In the call, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate claims that a server, containing digital copies of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email, was being held by unknown entities in Ukraine.
Trump in the call also asked Zelensky to look into the firing of a top Ukrainian prosecutor which allegedly occurred under pressure from Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden. The prosecutor was reportedly investigating the company on which Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden served as a board director.
The whistleblower complaint alleged that Trump pressured the government of Ukraine to investigate Biden, and in doing so, abused his power and violated campaign finance law. The complaint also alleged Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr were involved.
The Department of Justice reviewed the allegations and determined on Sept. 25, 2019, that “there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.” The department also clarified that Trump did not speak to Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son.”
Trump on Sept. 30, 2019, demanded to know which officials changed the rules on a whistleblower form for complaints submitted to the Office of the ICIG.
Sometime between May 17, 2018, and Sept. 24, 2019, the Office of the ICIG changed the Urgent Concern Disclosure Form by removing language that had advised that complainants’ requests wouldn’t be forwarded to Congress unless they had firsthand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing.
The Office of the ICIG admitted on the same day, Sept. 30, that media scrutiny contributed to its decision to change the language in the form.
The removal of the language is significant because the whistleblower wasn’t a firsthand witness to the call.
The complaint consists almost entirely of secondhand accounts, media reports, and other publicly available information, and Democrats relied on the document to launch the impeachment inquiry against Trump on Sept. 24. The complaint was made public on Sept. 26.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) have refused to make public the whistleblower’s name.
The House voted in December 2019 to impeach Trump. The Senate acquitted Trump in February 2020.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.