Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog

Democrats are pouncing on President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE over his Friday night firing of the intelligence community inspector general, casting it as a “chilling” warning that the White House is seeking to further politicize the historically nonpartisan intelligence agencies.

Democrats unleashed an avalanche of criticism after Trump announced he is firing Michael Atkinson, who had served as the intelligence community’s watchdog since May 2018 and was the first to raise the whistleblower complaint over Trump’s dealings with Ukraine that ultimately led to Congress’s impeachment proceedings.

Trump detractors on Capitol Hill were quick to cast Atkinson’s dismissal as a politically motivated act of retribution meant to deter future criticism of the White House.

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“The shameful late-night firing of Inspector General Atkinson is a brazen act against a patriotic public servant who has honorably performed his duty to protect the Constitution and our national security, as required by the law and by his oath,” said Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Sunday shows preview: Leaders weigh in as country erupts in protest over George Floyd death 5 things to know about US-China tensions over Hong Kong Pelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' MORE (D-Calif.). “This latest act of reprisal against the Intelligence Community threatens to have a chilling effect against all willing to speak truth to power.”

“The work of the intelligence community has never been about loyalty to a single individual; it’s about keeping us all safe from those who wish to do our country harm. We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies,” added Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Trump signs order targeting social media firms' legal protections MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Other Democrats pointed to the timing of Trump’s announcement, accusing him of using the burgeoning coronavirus crisis as a way to draw attention away from Atkinson’s firing. 

“At a time when our country is dealing with a national emergency and needs people in the Intelligence Community to speak truth to power, the President’s dead of night decision puts our country and national security at even greater risk,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. 

"President Trump is using a global pandemic as cover to exact political revenge against the Intelligence Community Inspector General who revealed his misconduct," Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in MORE (D-Mass.) added Saturday. "Firing IG Atkinson is corruption, and it threatens our national security during a global crisis."

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The surprise firing also drew calls from some Democrats to implement efforts to protect future inspectors general, such as establishing term limits.

"Presidents shouldn't be able to fire Inspectors General at will," tweeted Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyMissouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (D-Conn.). "It's time for Congress to establish terms of office (5 years?) for all IGs, so capricious, vindictive, paranoid chief executives can't engage in nonsensical political purges."

While some of Trump’s media allies, such as Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, praised Atkinson’s firing as “cleaning house,” congressional Republicans largely refrained from defending the move online Saturday.

Trump nominated Atkinson for his role in 2017 after he had served 16 years at the Justice Department. One of the focuses of his job was to probe activities falling under the purview of the director of national intelligence and reviewing whistleblower complaints from within the intelligence community.

Atkinson came out against then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireTop intel official leaving post Grenell announces creation of intelligence community 'cyber executive' Ratcliffe refuses to say whether Russian election interference favored Trump MORE’s decision to withhold the whistleblower complaint from Congress, pitting him against the White House’s desire to keep the complaint out of the hands of congressional investigators. 

The firing will take effect 30 days from Friday, the day Trump sent a notice informing Congress of Atkinson's dismissal, and the president said he will submit to the Senate his nominee for a replacement “at a later date.”