Michael Horowitz, Inspector General of the Department of Justice, whose efforts to uncover irregularities committed by law enforcement officials have been defended by the President’s allies, in particular his investigations into allegations of abuse of , also promised that a> would continue unabated.
Last Friday, Trump informed Congress that he was exercising his power to remove Atkinson from the office of Inspector General, effective 30 days after he “no longer had” the greatest self-confidence. The president said he would introduce a replacement “who has my full confidence and meets the requirements” at a later date.
Democratic leaders immediately sounded the alarm.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff condemned “Trump’s death decision” to fire Atkinson, warning that it was “another blatant new attempt to drain the independence of the intelligence and retaliate against those who dare to speak out against the President’s wrongdoings. ”
Horowitz, who is the chair of the Board of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, released a statement saying Atkinson was well respected among his peers, including his handling of a whistleblower complaint in the saga of the removal.
“Inspector General Atkinson is known in the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight,” said Horowitz. “This includes his actions in dealing with the whistleblower complaint from Ukraine, who was then the acting director. of National Intelligence said in congressional testimony was done “by the book” and compliant with the law. “
Last year, Atkinson determined that a CIA analyst’s report of a phone call that Trump had with the President of Ukraine, in which he urged investigations into his political rivals, was “urgent” and ” credible ”. The Inspector General forwarded the complaint to then-serving National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire, who did not allow Atkinson to share it with Congress after seeking advice from the White House and the Department of Justice, but told him helped inform them of its existence.
The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel reviewed the whistle-blower complaint in the fall and concluded that it was not an “urgent concern” under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998, because it was not linked to the “financing, administration or operation of an intelligence activity” under the authority of the director of national intelligence.
Atkinson disagreed, as did Horowitz and dozens of other inspectors general, who signed a letter to the Department of Justice supporting Atkinson’s determination and urging the agency to reconsider.
“We agree with the ICIG that the advice of the OLC has a deterrent effect on effective oversight and is wrong in law and policy,” wrote Horowitz and his colleagues. “We also share the concern of the ICIG that the advice of the OLC could seriously jeopardize the denunciation and dissuade members of the intelligence community and of the government as a whole from reporting waste, fraud, abuse and government misconduct. “
Trump, who repeatedly expressed frustration at Atkinson’s behavior during the episode, was removed from the House in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was acquitted of the two indictments by the Senate following a trial in February.
Some Republicans in Congress have reservations about Atkinson, who worked at the Justice Department before becoming Inspector General of the intelligence community in 2018.
“The Republicans of the Intelligence Committee have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the anomalies in Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower complaint in Ukraine, and during the course of our investigation he failed to alleviate any of these concerns, “said representative Devin Nunes, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is chair of the finance committee, asked the Trump administration to provide further explanations as to why Atkinson was fired.
“Congress has been very clear that written reasons must be given when GIs are removed for lack of confidence. More details are needed from the administration, “he said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr thanked Atkinson for his work, but appeared to accept Trump’s reasoning to let him go.
“Over the past two years, he has transformed the ICIG Office, re-establishing an important organization. I have appreciated his professionalism and responsiveness when I work with the Senate Intelligence Committee on a wide range of issues and wish him the best. ” Burr said about Atkinson in a statement on Saturday morning. “Like any politically appointed person, the Inspector General serves at the request of the executive. However, to be effective, the IG must be allowed to carry out its work independently of external pressure. “
The North Carolina Republican added that “I hope that the next candidate for the role of ICIG will meet the same important standards set by Congress when we created this role.”
Shortly after, the office of the director of national intelligence ad Thomas Monheim, a career intelligence professional and retired colonel of the US Air Force Reserve, had been appointed acting inspector general of the spy community.
Schiff and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi raised national security concerns after Trump moved to oust Atkinson, amplified by the coronavirus crisis. “The president must immediately stop his attacks on those who sacrifice themselves to protect America, especially in this time of national emergency,” said Pelosi.
Faced with warnings of political retaliation, Horowitz’s statement left assurances that inspectors general will not be intimidated by outside pressure, especially when they oversee the implementation of a massive economic rescue plan to help workers and businesses struggling with the pandemic.
“The Community Inspector General will continue to exercise aggressive, independent oversight over the agencies we supervise,” said Horowitz. “This includes the CIGIE Pandemic Accountability Committee and its efforts on behalf of American taxpayers, families, businesses, patients and health care providers to ensure that more than $ 2 trillion in federal spending are used in accordance with the mandate of the law. “