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Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog

Democrats are pouncing on President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge 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 PelosiClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Governors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight 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 WarnerHarris shares Thanksgiving recipe: 'During difficult times I have always turned to cooking' Biden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin 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 SchiffOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Trump pardons Michael Flynn 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 WarrenInequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation 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 MurphyRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State 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 MaguireRetired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones 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.”