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Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog

Democrats are pouncing on President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new tranche of endorsements DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll Lawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food 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 PelosiLawmakers demand changes after National Guard troops at Capitol sickened from tainted food Andrew Yang condemns attacks against Asian Americans Congress in lockdown: Will we just 'get used to it'? 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 WarnerHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China 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 SchiffHouse Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' White House defends not sanctioning Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi What good are the intelligence committees? 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 WarrenSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Philly city council calls on Biden to 'cancel all student loan debt' in first 100 days Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case 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 MurphyBiden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress Democrats reintroduce gun sale background check legislation 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 MaguireJudge dismisses Nunes's defamation suit against Washington Post Retired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts 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.”