Donald Trump has described as “a disgrace” the sacked inspector general who handled an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that sparked his impeachment.
A day after dismissing him, Mr Trump said independent watchdog Michael Atkinson should have discussed the complaint with him.
Announcing his decision on Friday, the US president said in letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees that he had lost confidence in Mr Atkinson.
His removal is part of a larger shake-up of the intelligence community under Mr Trump, who has always viewed intelligence professionals with scepticism.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 5, 2020
Mr Trump’s criticism on Saturday came after Mr Atkinson’s peers had rushed to his defence.
Michael Horowitz, the inspector general at the Justice Department, said Mr Atkinson was known for his “integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight.”
He said that included Mr Atkinson’s actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint.
Asked during the daily coronavirus briefing about firing Mr Atkinson, Mr Trump returned to his attacks on the Democratic-led impeachment investigation and trial, and his defence that his phone call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect” but had been inaccurately described in the whistleblower’s account.
In fact, the partial transcript later released by the president largely supported the whistleblower’s account.
“I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible,” Mr Trump said of Mr Atkinson, though he did not use his name while discussing the firing.
“He took a fake report and he took it to Congress with an emergency, OK? Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you.”
Mr Trump also questioned why Mr Atkinson didn’t speak to him about the complaint, though Mr Atkinson’s role was to provide independent oversight.
“Never came in to see me, never requested to see me,” Mr Trump said. He added: “That man is a disgrace to IGs.”
Mr Atkinson is at least the seventh intelligence official to be fired or moved aside since last summer, leaving the US’ intelligence community in turmoil through constant turnover.
Democrats reacted by saying the firing would have a “chilling effect” and was “unconscionable” during a pandemic. And a prominent Senate Republican said the administration needed to provide more information about why Atkinson was fired.
Mr Trump said Mr Atkinson would be removed from office in 30 days, the required amount of time he must wait after informing Congress. He wrote that he would nominate an individual “who has my full confidence” at a later date.
Mr Atkinson was the first to inform Congress about the whistleblower complaint last year that described Mr Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son.
That complaint prompted a House investigation that led to Mr Trump’s impeachment.