President Trump “vented” his frustration with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson after Atkinson reported a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Congress, but no moves were made within the White House to fire Atkinson, a senior administration official told Fox News Tuesday.
The official said that while Trump was angered with Atkinson – saying something along the lines of “Can we get rid of him?” – there was never any serious consideration given to removing Atkinson from his post as the intelligence community’s top watchdog.
The comment by the White House official came shortly after a New York Times report published Tuesday said that Trump has raised the idea of firing Atkinson multiple times since the whistleblower’s complaint was made public in September. Some sources in the Times story, however, also suggested that Trump was just “venting” and that Atkinson’s job was never in jeopardy.
The president has been highly critical of Atkinson during the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump. The president has publically accused Atkinson of lacking integrity and of working with Democrats to undermine his presidency.
Trump has also criticized the handling of the complaint and asserted that Atkinson “should have never let it start.”
“Why doesn’t the ICIG do something about this Scam? He should have never let it start, a Dem Hoax!” Trump tweeted Oct. 9.
Atkinson, who previously worked at the Justice Department’s National Security Division, was nominated for his current job by Trump in late 2017, but the nomination was held up amid demands from senators for information from then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats about the removal of the leader of a whistleblower protection office.
During his confirmation hearing, Atkinson promised to work with lawmakers and keep them informed of any significant complaints. He was confirmed in May 2018 and quickly earned bipartisan praise for his work in tackling dysfunction within the intelligence community.
The Hill reported that Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, penned a letter to Coats last summer in which he praised Atkinson for taking on his job “with a degree of zeal and dedication that is welcome in an office previously rife with challenges.”
The report of Trump venting his anger at Atkinson comes less than 24 hours before the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry is set to begin.
The hearing is to feature Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who already testified behind closed doors to congressional investigators that the president pushed Ukraine to investigate election interference, former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and their Ukraine dealings.
George Kent, the deputy assistant Secretary of State, is also scheduled to appear Wednesday. Kent testified behind closed doors last month and told the committees he had concerns about Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Ukrainian natural-gas firm Burisma Holdings in 2015 but was rebuffed by the former vice president’s staff, which said the office was preoccupied with Beau Biden’s cancer battle.
It was also reported on Tuesday that a newly filed complaint to the ICIG alleges that the whistleblower whose allegations touched off House Democrats' impeachment inquiry may have violated federal law by indirectly soliciting more than a quarter-million dollars from mostly anonymous sources via a GoFundMe page.
The complaint, which was filed last week and obtained by Fox News, alleged the donations from roughly 6,000 individuals "clearly constitute" gifts to a current intelligence official that may be restricted because of the employee's official position pursuant to 5 CFR 2635.203 and other statutes. To date, the GoFundMe has raised over $227,000.
Fox News Gregg Re contributed to this report.