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Iran Press TV

Trump defends firing of 'terrible' top intelligence watchdog

Iran Press TV

Sunday, 05 April 2020 1:43 PM

US President Donald Trump has defended his decision to fire the top watchdog of the intelligence community, calling Michael Atkinson a "total disgrace" for the way he handled a whistleblower complaint that led to the president's impeachment.

"He took a fake report, and he brought it to Congress," Trump said during a briefing on the novel coronavirus pandemic at the White House on Saturday.

Atkinson was a key figure in the run-up to Trump's impeachment, having reported to Congress a credible complaint from a whistleblower within the administration that the president had abused his office by soliciting Ukraine's meddling in the 2020 US election in exchange for military aid.

Trump complained that Atkinson should not have submitted what he described as a "fraudulent" whistleblower complaint to Congress. "I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible," the president said.

Atkinson's firing comes as US inspectors general, who have independent oversight of federal agencies, were recently tasked with broad surveillance of the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 8,000 people across the US so far.

Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, charged that the president's conduct was "unconscionable."

The California Democrat accused Trump of "decapitating" the leadership of the intelligence community "in the middle of a national crisis."

"And of course it sends a message throughout the federal government and in particular to other inspectors general that if they do their job as this professional did, and Michael Atkinson was a complete professional, they too may be fired by a vindictive president," Schiff said.

Trump mused about Schiff being the still-unnamed whistleblower's "informer," without offering any evidence. Schiff was the public face of the House's effort to impeach the president.

The president also railed against the whistleblower, calling him a "fake."

"They give this whistleblower a status that he doesn't deserve. He's a fake whistleblower," Trump concluded. "And frankly, somebody ought to sue his ass off."

The firing of Atkinson underscores the president's deep disdain toward the officials and lawmakers who played a role in his impeachment in the House early this year. Trump was acquitted by his fellow Republican allies in the Senate.

Even some Republicans expressed uneasiness about the president's action and praised Atkinson.

"Like any political appointee, the inspector general serves at the behest of the Executive," Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Saturday.

"However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure," the North Carolina Republican added.

Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, demanded a better explanation for Atkinson's firing, but stopped short of criticizing the president.

"Congress has been crystal clear that written reasons must be given when IGs are removed for a lack of confidence," the Republican of Iowa said. "More details are needed from the administration."

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