Over the past month, President Donald Trump has targeted a number of inspectors general for removal, including Michael Atkinson of the intelligence community, someone who Trump said he “no longer” “had confidence in,” and coronavirus spending watchdog Glenn Fine. What’s more, they may not be the last to go.
“Every IG should be on the chopping block,” The Hill quoted Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton as saying on Wednesday.
According to the Hill, Fitton “argued that Trump should be able to have watchdogs who reflect the president’s points of view, while claiming that IGs too often protect bureaucracy rather than fight waste, fraud and abuse.” He also emphasized that it makes no difference whether they were appointed by a Democrat or a Republican.
The report also referenced Republican sources who suggested as many as seven other inspectors general could meet the same fate. But another source told the Hill, “I don’t think there are any more. It was done last week. But news may be catching up to what was already done.”
Atkinson firing draws criticism
Not everyone agrees that the president should have a free hand in removing inspectors general in whom he lacks confidence. Surprisingly, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was among a bipartisan group of senators who penned a letter objecting to Atkinson’s firing. They argued that the 30-day notice was insufficient and requested additional information on why he is being removed.
“Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute,” they wrote on Wednesday. “This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing or failure to perform the duties of the office, and not for reasons unrelated to their performance, to help preserve [inspector general] independence.”
Maine’s Sen. Angus King is a left-leaning Independent, and during a recent appearance on MSNBC, he alleged that Atkinson was axed for “doing his job.”
“Atkinson essentially was fired for doing his job,” King complained on Wednesday. “This is cutting off the American people’s access to what’s going on within their government,” he continued, adding, “Whistleblowers and IGs are essential part of our checks and balances.”
Meanwhile, House Democrat Carolyn Maloney accused Trump of using the coronavirus pandemic as cover to further his political goals.
“President Trump has been engaged in an assault against independent Inspectors General since last Friday in order to undermine oversight of his chaotic and deficient response to the coronavirus crisis,” she claimed. Maloney serves as chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Barr defends Trump decision
Attorney General Bill Barr supports the president’s firing of Atkinson, however, telling Fox News, “I think the president did the right thing in removing Atkinson.”
“He was obliged to follow the interpretation of the Department of Justice and he ignored it,” Barr said of Atkinson’s decision to forward the Ukraine whistleblower complaint about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president to Congress instead of the DOJ.