President Trump on Saturday ripped into fired Intelligence Community Inspector General (IG) Michael Atkinson for his conduct related to the Ukraine controversy -- calling Atkinson a “disgrace to IGs.”
“That man is a disgrace to IGs, he’s a total disgrace,” Trump said at a White House press briefing when asked about his decision Friday to fire the official
Trump notified both the Senate and House intelligence committees in a letter that he was removing Atkinson, effective in 30 days.
“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.
Atkinson’s role in the Ukraine controversy, which quickly mushroomed into an impeachment inquiry and eventual Senate trial and acquittal, began in August 2019.
Atkinson received a complaint from the still-unidentified whistleblower about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that call, Trump urged Zelensky to “look into” allegations about Ukrainian interference in 2016, as well as the actions of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in the country.
Democrats alleged that Trump’s actions represented a “quid pro quo” for political investigations in return for the unlocking of military aid -- a charge Trump denied. The House would impeach him on two articles -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
In January, Fox News reported that Atkinson was being investigated by Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee for his handling of the Ukraine matter.
A source told Fox News that Republicans are also looking at the veracity of Atkinson's testimony about the whistleblower complaint, and the explanations he offered for changes made to the ICIG’s guidance on accepting second-hand information.
“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.
Democrats on Friday reacted furiously to the decision to fire Atkinson, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., calling it a “blatant attempt to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Trump of firing people “for telling the truth.”
“Michael Atkinson is a man of integrity who has served our nation for almost two decades. Being fired for having the courage to speak truth to power makes him a patriot,” Schumer said in a statement.
Fox News' Dom Callichio, Brooke Singman Chad Pergram contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.