President Donald Trump has named National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency general counsel Thomas Monheim as acting intelligence community inspector general, a day after he fired Michael Atkinson, telling reporters at the White House that Atkinson mishandled the whistleblower complaint that led to the first partisan impeachment of a president and his subsequent acquittal.
Monheim’s appointment was announced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in a statement on Twitter, shortly before the president said at a White House CCP virus Task Force briefing on April 5 that he had fired Atkinson.
“Thomas Monheim has been named the Acting IC Inspector General,” the DNI said. “Monheim is a career intelligence professional and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserves who has served our nation in a wide variety of roles throughout his distinguished career.”
President Trump on Michael Atkinson: “I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible. He took a whistleblower report, which turned out to be a fake report…it was about my conversation with the president of Ukraine. He took a fake report and he brought it to Congress.” pic.twitter.com/nctqgPNQ7T
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 4, 2020
During his time with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Monheim provided legal advice to “enable NGA’s mission consistent with the Constitution and law,” the DNI said.
“His military service includes time as a prosecutor, defense counsel, military judge, and Deputy General Counsel of the White House Military Office,” it continued. “He mobilized for 9 months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and for another 9 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Trump on Saturday described Atkinson as a “total disgrace,” as he defended his decision to remove him.
“That’s my decision. I have the absolute right,” the president said.
Trump noted that the anonymous whistleblower’s complaint didn’t have to be rushed and that Atkinson himself determined that there were indications of political bias by the complainant.
In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 3, Trump said that he would remove Atkinson from office “effective 30 days from today.”
“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.
Atkinson played a central role in the genesis of the impeachment probe against Trump. He vetted the whistleblower complaint and determined that it should be forwarded to Congress as an urgent concern. The complaint centered on Trump’s July 25, 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Many questions remain about some controversial aspects of Atkinson’s involvement. Shortly after the submission of the Ukraine complaint, the intelligence community inspector general’s (ICIG) office altered its whistleblower complaint form to remove instructions that directed complainants that the office would only review firsthand information. The impeachment whistleblower’s complaint consisted almost entirely of secondhand claims.
Atkinson issued a lengthy explanation as to why the form was altered, explaining that the firsthand requirement was removed due to scrutiny from the media. He explained that the ICIG does not actually have a requirement for firsthand information and that the form was adjusted accordingly.
The whistleblower also falsely claimed on the complaint form that he or she hadn’t spoken to Congress about the matter.
Atkinson testified before the House Intelligence Committee during its impeachment inquiry. His testimony is the only one that remains classified and was never released by the Democrat-controlled committee. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) later revealed that his office had in fact communicated with the whistleblower prior to the submission of the complaint.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.