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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Michael Atkinson (Image source: Public domain)
At a time when the country should be coming together and rallying behind the common cause of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Trump threw a grenade that is tearing Democrats and Republicans further apart. After he'd referred to himself as the nation's "cheerleader" last week, he fired National Intelligence Director Michael Atkinson, who was the official who first alerted Congress of the whistleblower complaint.
"I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible," said Trump. "That man is a disgrace to IGs."
Atkinson was the first to mention the whistleblower complaint to Congress last September. He received the complaint that called out Trump for asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone call to investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter while holding out aid for Ukraine as a reward.
The House immediately began an impeachment investigation into the matter and impeached Trump in December. A Senate trial followed, with witness testimony and other evidence not being allowed. The Republican majority acquitted Trump in early February while the coronavirus outbreak was just beginning in the United States.
Thomas A. Monheim was named acting inspector general of the intelligence community on Saturday. He's the general counsel of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and is also a retired Air Force officer who is much respected in his community. Atkinson was placed on administrative leave.
Democratic leaders have conveyed their concern over Trump's executive move while the whole of the country is trying its best to win the battle with coronavirus COVID-19.
"This latest act of reprisal against the Intelligence Community threatens to have a chilling effect against all willing to speak truth to power," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a statement. "The president must immediately cease his attacks on those who sacrifice to keep America safe, particularly during this time of national emergency."
"President Trump is using a global pandemic as cover to exact political revenge against the Intelligence Community Inspector General who revealed his misconduct. Firing IG Atkinson is corruption, and it threatens our national security during a global crisis," tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Saturday morning.
"Weakening our national security institutions is bad enough during a time of global calm; during the current instability we're faced with, it's particularly dangerous," added Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), who led the impeachment charge against Trump, chimed in to say, "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."
One of Trump's most vocal allies in the House, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), disparaged Schiff for his comments, referring to him as the "key impeachment enabler." Others in the GOP criticized him as well for refusing to make a transcript of a closed-door interview with Atkinson public.
Other more prominent Republicans had nothing to say publicly about Trump's removal of Atkinson. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Devin Nunes (R-CA) all said nothing.
Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) went against his party and issued a statement Saturday that praised the former inspector general for his "professionalism and responsiveness."
"Like any political appointee, the inspector general serves at the behest of the Executive. However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure," he said. "It is my hope the next nominee for the role of ICIG will uphold the same important standards laid out by Congress when we created this role."
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