Michael Atkinson, the outgoing intelligence community inspector general fired by President Donald Trump on Friday, has called on others to speak out and defend whistleblowers.
On Saturday, Trump defended his decision to fire the top watchdog of the intelligence community, calling 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.
In a statement Atkinson sent to reporters late on Sunday, he said he believed the president sacked him for carrying out his “legal obligations” as an impartial watchdog.
“It is hard not to think that the president’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial inspector general, and from my commitment to continue to do so.”
Atkinson also called on his former colleagues to continue working independently, saying, “I have faith that my colleagues in Inspectors General Offices throughout the federal government will continue to operate effective and independent whistleblower programs, and that they will continue to do everything in their power to protect the rights of whistleblowers.”
“Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices,” he pleaded.
Atkinson, a key figure in the run-up to Trump’s impeachment, 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 9,600 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.”