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Trump Fires Watchdog Over Whistleblower04/04 11:00

   President Donald Trump abruptly fired the inspector general of the 
intelligence community, sidelining an independent watchdog who played a pivotal 
role in his impeachment even as his White House struggles with the deepening 
coronavirus pandemic.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump abruptly fired the inspector 
general of the intelligence community, sidelining an independent watchdog who 
played a pivotal role in his impeachment even as his White House struggles with 
the deepening coronavirus pandemic.

   Trump informed the House and Senate intelligence committees late Friday of 
his decision to fire Michael Atkinson, according to letters obtained by The 
Associated Press. Atkinson handled the anonymous whistleblower complaint that 
triggered Trump's impeachment last year. 

   Atkinson's firing, which is part of a larger shakeup of the intelligence 
community under Trump, thrusts the president's impeachment back into the 
spotlight as his administration deals with the deadly spread of the 
coronavirus. As Trump was removing Atkinson, the number of U.S. deaths due to 
the virus topped 7,000. 

   Trump said in the letter that it is "vital" that he has confidence in the 
appointees serving as inspectors general, and "that is no longer the case with 
regard to this inspector general." 

   He did not elaborate, except to say that "it is extremely important that we 
promote the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and 
activities," and that inspectors general are critical to those goals. 

   Trump said in the letter to the Senate that Atkinson would be removed from 
office in 30 days, the required amount of time he must wait after informing 
Congress. He wrote that he would nominate an individual "who has my full 
confidence" at a later date.

   According to two congressional officials, Atkinson has been placed on 
administrative leave, meaning he will not serve out the 30 days. One of the 
officials said Atkinson was only informed of his removal on Friday night. The 
officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Atkinson's administrative 
leave has not been announced. 

   Atkinson was the first to inform Congress about the anonymous whistleblower 
complaint last year that described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate 
Democrat Joe Biden and his son. That complaint prompted a House investigation 
that ultimately resulted in Trump's impeachment.

   Atkinson informed lawmakers of the existence of the complaint in September, 
saying he believed the complaint was "urgent" and "credible." But the acting 
director of national intelligence at the time, Joseph Maguire, said he did not 
believe it met the definition of "urgent," and tried to withhold it from 
Congress. 

   The complaint was eventually released after a firestorm, and it revealed 
that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July call to 
investigate the Bidens. The House launched an inquiry in September, and three 
months later voted to impeach Trump. The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump 
in February. 

   Democrats reacted swiftly to Atkinson's removal. The top Democrat on the 
Senate intelligence panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said it was 
"unconscionable" that Trump would fire Atkinson in the midst of the coronavirus 
pandemic. 

   "We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the 
nation's intelligence agencies," Warner said. 

   House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the 
House impeachment inquiry, said "the president's dead of night decision puts 
our country and national security at even greater risk." House Speaker Nancy 
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the firing "threatens to have a chilling effect against 
all willing to speak truth to power." And Senate Democratic leader Chuck 
Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump "fires people for telling the truth." 

   Michael Horowitz, chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on 
Integrity and Efficiency and the inspector general at the Department of Justice 
who is well-liked by lawmakers in both parties, criticized the removal of 
Atkinson and defended his handling of the Ukraine case. 

   "The Inspector General Community will continue to conduct aggressive, 
independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee," Horowitz said in a 
statement. 

   Horowitz said that includes oversight of the $2 trillion law signed last 
week to help combat the coronavirus pandemic and boost the economy. Trump has 
already tried to limit some of the oversight that Congress set up to police 
that money. 

   Tom Monheim, a career intelligence professional, will become the acting 
inspector general for the intelligence community, according to an intelligence 
official who was not authorized to discuss personnel changes and spoke only on 
condition of anonymity. Monheim is currently the general counsel of the 
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. 

   Atkinson's firing is part of a larger shakeup in the intelligence community. 
Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, was also removed 
by Trump and replaced by a Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell. 

   The intelligence community, which Trump has always viewed with skepticism, 
has been in turmoil because of the constant turnover. Atkinson is at least the 
seventh intelligence official to be fired, ousted or moved aside since last 
summer.

   The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created to 
improve coordination of the nation's 17 intelligence agencies after 9/11, has 
been in upheaval since former Director Dan Coats, who had a fraught 
relationship with Trump, announced in July 2019 that he was stepping down.

   Trump nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to replace Coats, but his 
selection drew sharp criticism from Democrats and a lukewarm response from some 
Republicans because of his lack of experience. 

   Trump withdrew Ratcliffe's name from consideration shortly after he was 
nominated, but then re-nominated him again in February. The Senate has yet to 
move on the nomination.

   Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Grenell could only serve in his post 
until March 11 unless the president formally nominated someone else for the 
job. So by selecting Ratcliffe again, Grenell can stay for up to 210 days while 
Ratcliffe weaves his way through the Senate confirmation process, and for 
another 210 days if senators reject Ratcliffe's nomination. 


(KR)

 
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