Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace'

 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE on Saturday defended his decision to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson and called him a “disgrace” to inspectors general.

Trump, responding to a reporter’s question about the late Friday decision, tore into Atkinson for what he described as his unfair handling of a whistleblower complaint that eventually triggered the president’s impeachment last fall.

Trump complained that the ICIG didn’t call him before alerting Congress to the complaint about his dealings with Ukraine.

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“I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible. He took a whistleblower report, which turned out to be a fake report ... and he brought it to Congress with an emergency,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing. “Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you.”

Trump said Atkinson shouldn’t have submitted what he described as a “fraudulent” whistleblower complaint to Congress. 

“How can you do that without seeing the person? He never came in to see me,” Trump said, alleging that Atkinson declined an offer from the White House to view the rough transcript of his phone call with Ukraine before alerting Congress of the complaint.

“It was a perfect conversation,” the president insisted.

Trump has long maintained his phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last July was “perfect.” The transcript released by the White House showed that Trump asked Ukraine to “look into” a debunked theory about Kiev’s involvement in 2016 election interference as well as the dealings of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Trump expects to nominate woman to replace Ginsburg next week Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral MORE — currently the 2020 Democratic front-runner — and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

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The conversation triggered an intelligence community whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference in an election. The whistleblower, who remains anonymous, did not listen in on the call, but the description closely matched the transcript released by the White House.

It was Atkinson, a Trump appointee, who first notified Congress of that very complaint as an “urgent concern” last summer, setting off a standoff between the executive branch and Congress. The developments eventually led to Trump’s impeachment by the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

Trump notified Congress in a letter late Friday that he was firing Atkinson, saying he had lost confidence in him without providing further explanation. The decision has prompted widespread outrage among Democrats.

“President Trump’s decision to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson is yet another blatant attempt by the President to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: House to vote on military justice bill spurred by Vanessa Guillén death | Biden courts veterans after Trump's military controversies MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday.

Trump’s remarks Saturday, which came during a White House briefing on the coronavirus, made clear that Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower complaint prompted his firing.

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Trump lashed out at the whistleblower, at one point suggesting he should be sued, and claimed that Atkinson found potential political bias on the part of the whistleblower. Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible regardless of the potential bias, however.

“The whistleblower’s complaint was determined by an independent Inspector General who was appointed by this President to be credible and an urgent concern. Even the Acting DNI, another Trump appointee, stated the whistleblower followed the law,” said Mark Zaid, who formerly represented the anonymous whistleblower.

“President Trump is a friend to the whistleblowers who help him but an enemy to any who are even perceived to be challenging him. It is disgraceful how this administration has behaved in every debacle associated with the Ukraine complaint and its aftermath,” Zaid said.

The president asserted Friday that he has the “absolute right” to remove Atkinson, whose termination is effective 30 days from Friday.

“Dishonest Democrats impeached a President of the United States. That man is a disgrace to IGs,” Trump said. “He’s a total disgrace.”

Trump had previously expressed dissatisfaction with Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower complaint, suggesting in October he should have prevented it from triggering an impeachment inquiry amid reports the whistleblower had ties to Democrats.

Atkinson is the latest in a series of officials who have lost their jobs or been reassigned after playing a role in the impeachment process, which ended with Trump’s acquittal by the GOP-controlled Senate in February. 

Updated 6:12 p.m.