Trump Fires Intelligence Community Inspector General Who Informed Congress Of The Ukraine Whistleblower Complaint

President Donald Trump has fired the CIA Inspector General who was responsible for informing Congress of the whistleblower complaint on the Ukraine scandal. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson will leave his job in 30 days and, in the interim, will be on interim leave. No successor has been named. I previously stated that I believe Atkinson was wrong in his interpretation of the law (as later found by the Justice Department). However, I believe that this is a mistake and undermines the system of whistleblower protections as well as the Inspector General system. Without a specific basis for the action, it appears retaliatory and it is certainly unnecessary. As noted below, there could be a legitimate concern over the interpretation of this law in the future if Atkinson was defying the Justice Department’s conclusions. Yet, that was not cited as the basis for the termination.

I have long resented how administrations often wait until Friday night to bury stories that they do not want to be covered. That was the case with Atkinson’s firing. On Friday night, President Trump informed Congress: “As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as President, have the power of appointment … 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.”

When Trump removed figures like Alexander Vindman after the impeachment, I thought it was gratuitous and unnecessary (he was leaving within the month). However, I could understand working with Vindman would be difficult. This is different.

Atkinson was wrong in his interpretation of the complaint failing within the statutory scheme for reporting to Congress. While the inspector general concluded that this allegation fell within the whistleblower law, the Justice Department has a good faith basis to reject his interpretation. That law is intended to address mismanagement, waste, abuse or a danger to public safety by intelligence officials. The president is the ultimate intelligence authority, and there is little support to argue that a discussion between world leaders should be viewed as a subject of this law. After all, any intelligence official could claim that a president undermined national interests in discussions with another world leader. Trump has been denounced, perhaps correctly, for disclosing classified information to foreign figures, but he has total authority to declassify information for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all.

I believe that Atkinson should have yielded to the legal judgment of the Justice Department on the interpretation of this law. I further believe that Trump had a legitimate complaint about the use of the law to cover such high-level communications. Yet, this was obviously a matter of good-faith disagreement. I understood the bind that Atkinson felt in deciding whether to report the complaint to Congress. He decided to err on the side of transparency, which is generally a good predisposition for any government official. Moreover, whatever mistake was made on the legal interpretation, it does not warrant this action. Atkinson did what he honestly thought was right for the country and I have seen nothing to suggest a political or vindictive motive.

Moreover, Atkinson’s firing undermines the independence of the Inspector General’s office and its key function in our system. It is also damaging to President Trump. Rather than take the high road and move his Administration beyond the scandal, Trump will appear as vindictive and retaliatory. To take the action in the middle of a pandemic also makes the President look petty and distracted.

What concerns me the most is that there was no reason given for firing Atkinson other than a “loss of confidence.” No one questions the right of a president to fire high-ranking officials on that basis, but it seems to reaffirm that this is being done in retaliation for his decision that he had to inform Congress of the complaint. The position of the White House would be stronger if the Inspector General was asserting that he would continue to report such complaints to Congress on calls with heads of State. Such a position would defy the legal interpretation of the Justice Department, which historically is given deference on the meaning of federal law. There was no indication that Atkinson had indicated that he would defy that interpretation. If he did, the Administration should make that position clear.

Atkinson was widely respected and was appointed by Trump to this position after a distinguished governmental career.

Tom Monheim, a career intelligence professional, will be named acting inspector general for the intelligence community. It is vital that President Trump fill this position as soon as possible.

401 thoughts on “Trump Fires Intelligence Community Inspector General Who Informed Congress Of The Ukraine Whistleblower Complaint”

  1. About Trump’s removal of Atkinson, JT wrote:

    “What concerns me the most is that there was no reason given for firing Atkinson other than a “loss of confidence.” No one questions the right of a president to fire high-ranking officials on that basis,…”

    Actually, as Sen Grassley writes in a letter to Trump yesterday – cosigned by ranking member Peters – from the Senate Committee on Intelligence, no, Trump does not have the right under the law to remove him without giving first 30 days notice to the Congress with clearly stated reasons. “Losing confidence” does not meet that requirement according to Grassley. One hopes that the letter is the beginning of Congress looking into Trump’s attack on independent oversight and his attempt at placing cronies from the swamp in critical locations in the IG system. One also hopes that JT actually know the laws surrounding the issues he writes on.

      1. The letter doesn’t say there wasn’t plenty of reason to get rid of Atkinson only that Congress and wants to know why. This involves the continous fight between the executive and legislative branches over powers.

        Taken to the Supreme Court I think the executive branch would prevail for what I think are obvious reasons. Maybe some of our fine attorney’s will add some information on who would prevail and why.

    1. This version of Anon should answer three basic questions regarding the Atkinson affair: He can ask his son the lawyer for help but should give his son the credit for the answer.

      1 )Why were the WB forms secretly changed?

      2) Why were the rules secretly changed in September?

      3) Why did Atkinson refuse to explain why September changes were backdated to August

      1. Intel Community IG Stonewalling Congress On Backdated Whistleblower Rule Changes

        Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for U.S. intelligence agencies, acknowledged that his office secretly changed key whistleblower forms and rules in September, but refused to explain to lawmakers why those changes were backdated to August.

        Sean Davis
        In tense testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) on Friday, the inspector general for federal spy agencies refused to disclose why his office backdated secret changes to key whistleblower forms and rules in the wake of an anti-Trump whistleblower complaint filed in August, sources told The Federalist.

        As The Federalist reported and the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) confirmed, the spy watchdog secretly changed its whistleblower forms and internal rules in September to eliminate a requirement that whistleblowers provide first-hand evidence to support any allegations of wrongdoing. In a press release last week, the ICIG confessed that it changed its rules in response to an anti-Trump complaint filed on August 12. That complaint, which was declassified and released by President Donald Trump in September, was based entirely on second-hand information, much of which was shown to be false following the declassification and release of a telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

        Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, told HPSCI lawmakers during a committee oversight hearing on Friday that the whistleblower forms and rules changes were made in September, even though the new forms and guidance, which were not uploaded to the ICIG’s website until September 24, state that they were changed in August. Despite having a full week to come up with explanations for his office’s decisions to secretly change its forms to eliminate the requirement for first-hand evidence and to backdate those changes to August, Atkinson refused to provide any explanation to lawmakers baffled by his behavior.

        When pressed on the curious changes and attempts to obscure the timeline of his revisions, Atkinson refused to explain why the forms were backdated to August even though they were not made until September. The ICIG previously stated that it changed its forms and guidance “in response to recent press inquiries regarding” the anti-Trump complaint, of which Congress was not even notified until the second week of September. The new forms, which were not uploaded to the ICIG website until September 24, nonetheless stated that the revisions were made back in August.

        Lawmakers honed in on the discrepancy during Atkinson’s appearance on Capitol Hill on Friday. How could the forms have been changed back in August if they were changed in response to press inquiries that could not have been made until mid-September at the earliest?

        “[T]he timing of the removal of the first-hand information requirement raises questions about potential connections to this whistleblower’s complaint,” three House Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to Atkinson on September 30. “This timing, along with numerous apparent leaks of classified information about the contents of this complaint, also raise questions about potential criminality in the handling of these matters.”

        In an interview with Fox News, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the top Republican on HPSCI, intimated the secret changes to eliminate the requirement for first-hand information were intentionally made to accommodate the anti-Trump complainant, who offered no first-hand evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

        “This guideline, they changed it because of this whistleblower,” Nunes, who said on Fox News last week. “[Atkinson] admits it in his own press release.”

        Several top lawmakers in the Senate raised similar concerns about Atkinson’s behavior in a separate letter.

        “Why did the IC IG initially require first-hand information in its May 2018 disclosure form?” the senators asked. “Why did the IC IG remove the requirement for first-hand information?”

        Atkinson has not answered their questions, either, raising questions that his behavior following his receipt of the anti-Trump complaint might not be completely above board. Atkinson ignored legal guidance from both the director of national intelligence and the Department of Justice that the anti-Trump complaint was statutorily deficient and forwarded it to HPSCI even though it did not meet the legal definition of an “urgent concern” that is required to be given to Congress.

        The embattled ICIG also admitted on Friday that the anti-Trump complainant lied on his whistleblower complaint form by concealing the complainant’s previous secret interactions with House Democratic staff prior to submitting the complaint. Atkinson never even bothered investigating potential coordination between the complainant, whom DOJ said showed evidence of partisan political bias, and House Democrats prior to the filing of the anti-Trump complaint.

        If Anon wishes to complain about the need for more detailed sources he should go directly to the article where the links will appear. The blog won’t take more than two links

        Sean Davis is the co-founder of The Federalist.

        1. Allan: in real journalism, there would be a quote right between paragraph one and paragraph two of what you posted to solidify what the article maintains the IG said with a genuine quote from him…

          A quote in quotation marks. Short of this the article qualifies as more of an opinion piece. A push piece masquerading as real journalism.

          It’s not real journalism.

      2. Allan, it’s Trump’s obligation to tell Congress his basis for firing the IG and he must give it 30 days before removing him. Of course, as Grassley has pointed out, he has not done that.

        As to you questions, the law nowhere requires 1st person information and the complaint forms were corrected to reflect that fact. Here’s the appropriate section of the law:

        (A)An employee of an element of the intelligence community, an employee assigned or detailed to an element of the intelligence community, or an employee of a contractor to the intelligence community who intends to report to Congress a complaint or information with respect to an urgent concern may report such complaint or information to the Inspector General.
        (B)Not later than the end of the 14-calendar-day period beginning on the date of receipt from an employee of a complaint or information under subparagraph (A), the Inspector General shall determine whether the complaint or information appears credible. Upon making such a determination, the Inspector General shall transmit to the Director a notice of that determination, together with the complaint or information.
        (C)Upon receipt of a transmittal from the Inspector General under subparagraph (B), the Director shall, within 7 calendar days of such receipt, forward such transmittal to the congressional intelligence committees, together with any comments the Director considers appropriate.
        (i)If the Inspector General does not find credible under subparagraph (B) a complaint or information submitted under subparagraph (A), or does not transmit the complaint or information to the Director in accurate form under subparagraph (B), the employee (subject to clause (ii)) may submit the complaint or information to Congress by contacting either or both of the congressional intelligence committees directly.
        (ii)An employee may contact the congressional intelligence committees directly as described in clause (i) only if the employee—
        (I)before making such a contact, furnishes to the Director, through the Inspector General, a statement of the employee’s complaint or information and notice of the employee’s intent to contact the congressional intelligence committees directly; and
        (II)obtains and follows from the Director, through the Inspector General, direction on how to contact the congressional intelligence committees in accordance with appropriate security practices.”

        Here is the law:

        Here is the IG’s statement explaining his lawful actions:

        1. “Allan, it’s Trump’s obligation to tell Congress his basis for firing the IG and he must give it 30 days before removing him. Of course, as Grassley has pointed out, he has not done that.”

          Who says it’s Trump’s obligation? Trump says differently. What branch is the IG under?

                1. it’s executive branch. but there are many inspector general type offices.

                  but i wonder does the congress have its own internal IG for its own budgetary operations? oh that reminds me of the check kiting scandal. yeah prolly not.

                  1. Kurtz, as you may imagine, the IGs were created by law passed by Congress and include rules intended to keep them independent. Grassley wrote on behalf of his oversight Committee calling out Trump for relieving Atkinson without the required 30 days notification to Congress, including the specific reasons for the termination. Hopefully the GOP will join in for once in standing up to Trump’s ignoring of Congressional authority. I linked his letter above.

                    1. Trump’s lawyers should have told him. They’re incompetent

                      trump has failed in one way and that’s building a sufficient team of advisers to help him navigate the Swamp

                      or who knows maybe the told him and he just blew them off. he’s got a lot of fish to fry and I expect we’re going to see more summary actions and some of them will be more consequential than this one

                    2. “trump has failed in one way and that’s building a sufficient team of advisers to help him navigate the Swamp”

                      It’s really not a failure. His Rolodex didn’t have a list of people to serve in his administration so he had to rely on the advise of others probably most that worked under Bush. He has to work by trial and error as he builds up more and more people that will work well for his administration.

                  2. “it’s executive branch.”

                    That is why I told Anon to “Study the separation of powers.”. He reads but doesn’t understand.

  2. Turley says: ” I previously stated that I believe Atkinson was wrong in his interpretation of the law (as later found by the Justice Department).” You mean the Trump Justice Department, headed by Trump’s personal fixer, Bill Barr, who has literally no credibility? You keep citing The Justice Department as a credible, reliable source for interpreting federal law. Like everything else in Trump world, he has taken it over and turned it into a political tool for himself, just like he’s trying to do with the CDC.

    Here’s the real scandal: Trump did this for 2 reasons: 1. to punish the IG for turning him in; (think Jeff Sessions) and 2. to intimidate any others who have the notion that they’ll turn in Trump for other crimes he committed. God only knows how many other whistleblower complaints there could be.

    The House voted to impeach Trump, and 48 U.S. Senators voted to remove him from office. The IG was NOT wrong. Trump did try to leverage aid to Ukraine in exchange for smearing Joe Biden. Republicans weren’t going to allow him to be removed, but he should have been. Their error becomes more apparent each and every day.

    1. causation always matters, but the metaphysics of it in the newtonian world are not a concern of law

      but i t think i can tie this in benson and at least you will get my drift even if you dont like it:

      this is the schordinger’s cat version of democratic critique of trump:

      trump fails to dictate social distancing == trump bad

      trump dictates social distancing and economy fails == trump bad

      in the Democratic version of reality, both can be true at once, just like schrodinger’s cat being both alive and dead at once!

      1. Mr Kurtz – after many years pondering the fate of poor Schrodinger’s cat, I have decided it long ago died of old age and we no longer have to worry about it.

  3. Vice President Biden is not only demented, he is a rapist. He sexually assaulted a Senate staffer who worked for him. Now the corrupt MSM are astoundingly covering for Biden by NOT asking him a single question about the allegation. Why is there no wall to wall media coverage? It that only for Republicans? You bet. MSM is corrupt fake news.

    1. I don’t know that he is a rapist. There has been an accusation, but false accusations are not uncommon.

      On the other hand, nobody watching him is likely to doubt his faculties have dimmed considerably.

      Makes him a perfect candidate to truly represent most Democrats.

      1. “Makes him a perfect candidate to truly represent most Democrats.”

        Says the ‘perfect’ Repuglican.

    2. A brave commentary by ‘Anonymous,’; a fed-up Trumper and presumed ‘real American’.

    3. He is not accused of rape. He is accused of forcibly digitally penetrating the privates of his former staffer tara reade. this is usually called felony sexual assault or something like that. i posted the relevant offense from the DC Penal code the other day and forgot the title already.

      if she is to be believed, the offense is not rape, which is a different offense, which in general means some forcible penetration of the female genitals with the male genitals.

      I don’t believe a prosecutor would make a case out of it now 27 years later. A jury would likely find reasonable doubt based on the delay in coming forward with the accusation. There might also be a statute of limitations problem. However, given the stories of abuse of children which have come to light, many of those statutes have been changed to allow for late charges to be filed.

      People can read Tara Reade’s account here and make their own judgments

  4. The coronavirus press briefing today was a little lower energy than usual. These people are getting tired but they have accomplished wonders.

    The press, at times, was spectacularly stupid again.

    They keep on about chlorquinine though it has been answered multiple times. Trump finally put a stop to it and the narrative now is that Trump wouldn’t let Fauci speak. No, Trump wouldn’t let the same stupid reporter keep asking the same question. In court there is an objection that covers it: Asked and answered.

    Every country is trying to stockpile the drug. India has tons of it. We should too.

    There is an ever growing body of anecdotal evidence that it can save lives. Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily wrong, it just hasn’t gone through formal proof.

    If you are dying and there is a drug that might help and won’t hurt, and there is nothing else, you take the drug. You have nothing to lose.

    I suspect that Fredo and the Infobabe at CNN who have the virus are considering taking the drug but probably won’t admit it. And I bet they won’t want to wait months for double blind studies to be completed.

    And yes, it can be legally used to treat the Wuhan virus.

    Dr. Fauci has the final word. He said he would prescribe the drug to a patient of his who had the virus.

    That should settle it.

    Trump is a genius.

    1. Young, I haven’t seen any confirmation of the claims you’re making here. The drug’s effectiveness is unproven. So the question becomes: ‘Who is pushing this drug?’ ‘Who’ convinced Trump to stockpile this drug? The answer to these questions not the least bit clear.

      1. Paint Chips the answer is very clear. There are indications that the drug may be effective. Trump probably made the decision to get the the drug now rather than wait for a shortage should things become clearer. That drug can always be used for Malaria in Africa and Asia and for other illnesses as well.

        Covid-19 according to Fauci and other experts surrounding him was not supposed to be any more than a low risk. Trump didn’t wait for that evaluation to change. He banned Chinese Tourists. When he did that you said similar things about the President and that his ban was racist, stupid, or whatever. It turns out it was a wise move and saved a lot of American lives while Nancy Pelosi was advocating things that could kill American lives.

        During your years of life you may have noted that off label usage isn’t uncommon so since the drug has been tested for safety and might save lives Trump lets it be used for that reason while you hold off so that should it be proven to have benefit in a couple of years you too could have blood on your hands.

    2. Zombie news from Young above is both parrot speak – “Fredo”, “infobabe” – and false, and by the way, ever since Trump spoke to Premier Xi of China on Mar 26, he, Pompeo, and the rest of the administration have dropped the “China Virus” rebranding attempt.

      1. wisely so they have dropped it, not because it was false in the literal sense that the virus did come from china, but in the wider sense that it was too much trouble to maintain the moniker and a needless distraction in a moment of greater urgency to focus on the treatment of the problem rather than its genesis

        the larger picture of relations with the PRC is complicated and made more difficult in some ways by the covid-19 disease, but in some ways the disease and our difficulties with it have underlined the importance of Trump’s campaign message to bring back onshore industrial production as a matter of national security. like, make more masks here for heaven’s sake!

        1. Not going to happen Kurtz, and if it did it would be part of a global recession/depression from economic retraction. I wouldn’t even wish for it.

          We have a National Stockpile by law and we should refocus on maintaining it. This isn’t a war.

    3. “I suspect that Fredo and the Infobabe at CNN who have the virus are considering taking the drug but probably won’t admit it.”

      You are right. I would find it shocking if Fredo didn’t take it. I wonder how many physicians are presently on hydroxychloroquine using it prophylactically.

      Fredo is so dumb that when asked if he took Hydroxychloroquine he would probably answer NO, but when asked if he took Plaquenil he would answer yes.

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