Schiff, Nadler call for DOJ inspector general review of Barr comments related to Trump firing of ICIG

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Monday called for the Justice Department inspector general to review comments made by Attorney General Bill Barr regarding the firing of the intelligence community watchdog.

Schiff, D-Calif., and Nadler, D-N.Y., penned a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and acting director of the Office of Professional Responsibility Jeffrey Ragsdale, saying Barr “blatantly mischaracterized” former Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson’s conduct surrounding the filing of the whistleblower complaint that sparked President Trump’s impeachment inquiry in the House.

FEINSTEIN, WARNER CALL FOR DOJ IG TO REVIEW BARR COMMENTS ABOUT FIRING OF ICIG ATKINSON

Nadler and Schiff’s letter come just days after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., requested the same review of Barr’s comments.

Both letters reference comments made by Barr in an interview with Fox News earlier this month.

When he said Atkinson had “ignored” guidance from the Justice Department that “he is obliged to follow,” and that the president “did the right thing” by firing him.

In the interview, Barr said that "from the vantage point of the Department of Justice, [Atkinson] had interpreted his statute, which is a fairly narrow statute, that gave him jurisdiction over wrongdoing by intelligence people and tried to turn it into a commission to explore anything in the government and immediately reported to Congress without letting the Executive Branch look at it and determine whether there was any problem.”

Nadler and Schiff, who led the impeachment inquiry in the House and served as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, detailed the whistleblower complaint Monday, saying it “detailed President Trump’s efforts to coerce Ukraine to announce a politicallymmotivated investigation of his rival in the 2020 presidential election.”

“Mr. Barr’s remarks followed the President’s admission on April 4 that he fired Mr. Atkinson in retaliation for Mr. Atkinson’s handling—in accordance with the law—of the whistleblower complaint,” they wrote. “Mr. Barr’s misleading remarks appear to have been aimed at justifying the President’s retaliatory decision to fire Mr. Atkinson.”

Schiff and Nadler went on to underscore Feinstein and Warner’s letter, sent on Friday, saying that Atkinson “neither ‘ignored’ DOJ guidance, nor acted contrary to his legal and professional obligations in handling the whistleblower complain, as Mr. Barr alleged.”

“To the contrary, Mr. Atkinson faithfully discharged his legal obligation as an independent and impartial Inspector General in accordance with federal law,” they wrote, adding that the former acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, “affirmed this in his sworn testimony,” by saying Atkinson “handled the Ukraine whistleblower complaint ‘by the book’ and in strict accordance with statutory requirements.”

But the Justice Department on Friday responded to the calls from Feinstein and Warner and argued Barr's remarks were entirely accurate.

A Justice Department official told Fox News that the dispute between Atkinson and Maguire was based on his demand that the whistleblower complaint, which prompted the president's impeachment inquiry, be sent to Congress before it was sent to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department for review.

The seven-day period, according to the DOJ official, gave the DNI the time to review whether the allegations presented an "urgent concern," but they said it was not intended or provided the time to review the merits. The official maintained that Barr correctly described Atkinson as insisting that the complaint go immediately to Congress before “the executive branch [could] look at it and determine whether there was any problem.”

TRUMP FIRES INTEL COMMUNITY IG ATKINSON

The official went on to state that Atkinson also ignored the opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel by notifying the intelligence committees that he personally disagreed with the DNI's conclusion that the allegations against the president did not meet the statutory definition of an "urgent concern." The DOJ official said that Atkinson insisted on informing the intelligence committees that he received the complaint.

But Schiff and Nadler on Monday cited the OLC opinion a “secret” one that “absurdly concluded that the statute…did not require acting DNI Maguire to forward the whistleblower complaint to Congress.”

“Notwithstanding Mr. Atkinson’s meritorious objections, the coordinated efforts by the White House and DOJ succeeded—temporarily—in preventing Congress from receiving the whistleblower complaint.  Only after immense public pressure and a subpoena issued by the House Intelligence Committee did acting DNI Maguire produce the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees in late September 2019,” they wrote.

“The role of Attorney General Barr and other senior DOJ officials, in coordination with the White House, in attempting to prevent the whistleblower complaint from reaching Congress—as required by law—warrants your attention,” they continued.

Nadler and Schiff went on to state that Barr’s “recent remarks are part of a disturbing pattern of misrepresenting facts and falsely alleging misconduct by other government officials in order to defend the President’s own misconduct.”

Nadler and Schiff added that since the conclusion of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, “Barr has persistently sought to mislead the American public in an effort to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation and findings, as well as those of the Department’s own Office of Inspector General.”

“Public confidence in our system of justice depends on the integrity, fairness, and impartiality of DOJ’s leadership,” Schiff and Nadler wrote. “It is, therefore, imperative that the Attorney General be held to the same high standard expected of all Department personnel, particularly in matters involving the President’s own interests.”

The letter to Horowitz comes after the president fired Atkinson last month. Atkinson played a key role in notifying Congress about the whistleblower complaint concerning Trump's communications with Ukraine that ultimately led to his impeachment earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee is reviewing the circumstances of Atkinson’s dismissal, “including whether his termination was intended to curb any ongoing investigations or reviews being undertaken by his office,” Schiff, the committee chairman, said earlier this month.

"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," he tweeted. "It puts our country and national security at even greater risk."