Trump fires inspector general who alerted Congress to Ukraine scandal

By on 07/04/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
In a statement following news of his sacking, Michael Atkinson called on potential government whistleblowers to “bravely speak up… do not allow recent events to silence your voices”. (Image courtesy: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence).

In a controversial move, president Trump has fired the inspector general who alerted Congress to security service concerns over his conversation with the Ukrainian president, sparking the bid to impeach Trump. At the same time, the president announced his nominee for the newly-created role of special inspector general for pandemic recovery at the Treasury.

Michael Atkinson, inspector general (IG) of the Intelligence Community, complied with his remit and legal obligations in passing on the whistleblower’s message, which concerned a call during which Trump appeared to ask President Zelensky to investigate the activities of Hunter Biden, son of would-be Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden. Trump apparently stalled a US aid package for Ukraine in an attempt to put pressure on Zelensky.

Atkinson, an attorney who spent 15 years at the Department of Justice before becoming the Intelligence Community IG in May 2018, has now been placed on leave for 30 days until he can be dismissed, in accordance with federal government procedure.

In a letter to Congress, obtained by The Washington Post, Trump said he had exercised his power to remove Atkinson from office. “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. This is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general,” he wrote, later telling reporters during a coronavirus briefing that Atkinson was a “total disgrace”.  

Widespread criticism

Trump has received widespread criticism for Atkinson’s firing. “Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the inspector general community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight,” Michael Horowitz, chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Justice Department IG, said in a statement. “That 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.”

House intelligence chairman Adam Schiff of California, who led the House’s impeachment investigation, said the firing was “another blatant attempt by the president to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing”.

“This retribution against a distinguished public servant for doing his job and informing Congress of an urgent and credible whistleblower complaint is a direct affront to the entire inspector general system,” he added.

Responding to his sacking in a statement on Sunday, Atkinson said: “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.” He called on potential government whistleblowers to “bravely speak up… do not allow recent events to silence your voices”.

The White House announced on Friday that Trump is to nominate Peter Thomson to replace Atkinson. Thomson is a lawyer at the New Orleans-based practice Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, where he chairs the firm’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Information Security Practices. Meanwhile Tom Monheim, a career intelligence official, will be the acting intelligence community inspector general, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Inspector general for pandemic recovery

On the same day as Atkinson’s firing, Trump announced his intention to nominate Brian Miller for the job of special inspector general for pandemic recovery at the Treasury. Miller is currently special assistant to the president and senior associate counsel in the Office of White House Counsel.

The new position was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and is one of several mechanisms designed to protect value for money as agencies implement the largest spending bill in history, Government Executive reported.

However, when Trump signed the CARES Act on 27 March, he said in a signing statement that he objected to the new inspector general having the authority to request information from other agencies.

In an opinion piece published by Government Executive, Michael Thorning, associate director of governance at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Trump’s position “undermines the independence and integrity of this new office and Congress’s ability to conduct oversight at a time when the public deserves independent reviews of how this US$2 trillion [€1.8 trillion] is spent”.  

In the US federal system, inspectors general serve as watchdogs. They are the heads of an independent, non-partisan organisation established within each government agency, and audit that agency’s operation to discover and investigate cases of misconduct, waste, fraud and other abuses of government procedures.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.


  1. David says:

    Biased article shows your liberal colors. This IG reported something that was investigated at over 30M to the tax payer which found nothing. You should have titled this “Trump fired IG” vs. the Ukrainian hoax. Hillary lost, its ok the world will move on.

  2. Nick says:

    The guy deserved to be fired long ago. He obviously caused a lot of problems and cost to our country over nothing. Especially at a time when President Trump and the rest of our leaders needed to be focused on real problems.

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