President Donald Trump announced yesterday he was firing a senior intelligence official who had a central role in the complaint last August that sparked the impeachment trial of the U.S. leader. "While I recognize that the president has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted".
Between the lines: The outster of Atkinson, to take effect in 30 days, comes amid a broader initiative to purge the administration of officials seen as disloyal to the president.
That complaint prompted a House investigation that ultimately led to Trump's impeachment. But the intelligence watchdog isn't the only official involved in Trump's impeachment to be punished by the president since his February acquittal. Mark Warner, said it was "unconscionable" that Mr. Trump would fire Mr. Atkinson in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president said he would nominate a replacement "who has my full confidence and who meets the appropriate qualifications", at a later time.
Critics immediately termed the incident as yet another so-called "Friday Night Massacre", an allusion to the Watergate scandal that eventually engulfed and brought down another Republican president.
Democrats reacted angrily to the move.
Warner, a Democrat, blasted Trump for what he called "ongoing attempts to politicise the nation's intelligence agencies".
"President Trump is using a global pandemic as cover to exact political revenge against the Intelligence Community Inspector General who revealed his misconduct", Warren added.
Atkinson played a small yet pivotal role in the impeachment saga when he received a whistleblower's complaint about Trump's request that the Ukrainian president investigate Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival in this year's election. "This includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done "by the book" and consistent with the law".
In addition, Trump fired Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, another key impeachment witness.
"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", Schiff continued.
Atkinson's firing is part of a larger shakeup in the intelligence community.
Democrats have expressed concerns about how the fiscal package will be doled out through the U.S. Treasury, headed by Steven Mnuchin. Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, was also removed by Trump and replaced by a Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell.
The intelligence community, which Trump has always viewed with skepticism, has been in turmoil amid the constant turnover.
He has weighed for months removing Atkinson, whom he picked for the job in late 2017, but has been periodically talked out of it.
"He's decapitating the leadership of the intelligence community in the middle of a national crisis", he said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created to improve coordination of the nation's 17 intelligence agencies after 9/11, has been in upheaval since former director Dan Coats, who had a fraught relationship with Mr. Trump, announced in July 2019 that he was stepping down.