Intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson got fired Friday night, one more target of Trump’s revenge. Atkinson was fired for doing his job and serving his country. He was not the first, and he won’t be the last.
Atkinson was appointed by Trump in 2018. Instead of mindless boot-licking, he chose to do his job. When he received a whistleblower complaint accusing the president of abuse of power, Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible. The law required it to be sent to Congress. That eventually led to impeachment.
During the hearings, other witnesses confirmed the complaint’s accuracy. Trump’s own statements confirmed that he did what the complaint alleged. The Senate decided not that the complaint was mistaken but rather that they didn’t care about Trump’s abuse of power:
“A key vote in protecting Mr. Trump from witnesses, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said that the evidence proved Mr. Trump did withhold aid from Ukraine for personal political benefits, but said while that was “inappropriate,” it was not an impeachable offense. Several key Republicans said Mr. Alexander’s view was widespread.”
History will have the last word, but Michael Atkinson got in a few good words on Sunday. From that message:
“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.
“As an Inspector General, I was legally obligated to ensure that whistleblowers had an effective and authorized means to disclose urgent matters involving classified information to the congressional intelligence committees, and that when they did blow the whistle in an authorized manner, their identities would be protected as a guard against reprisals. Inspectors General are able to fulfill their critical watchdog functions because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress. Inspectors General are not involved in policymaking; they are not partisan. …
“Finally, a message for any government employee or contractor who believes they have learned of or observed unethical, wasteful, or illegal behavior in the federal government. The American people deserve an honest and effective government. They are counting on you to use authorized channels to bravely speak up – there is no disgrace in doing so. It is important to remember, as others have said, that the need for secrecy in the United States Intelligence Community is not a grant of power, but a grant of trust. Our government benefits when individuals are encouraged to report suspected fraud, waste, and abuse. 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.”
Whistleblower protections and independent inspectors general are there to protect the country. Threatening them means threatening the entire nation.
Today—Monday, April 6— an official HHS inspector general’s report detailed the disastrous failure of the federal government to provide resources to hospitals desperately fighting the coronavirus:
“One health system reported that it received 1,000 masks from the Federal and State governments, but it had been expecting a larger resupply. Further, 500 of the masks were for children and therefore unusable for the health system’s adult staff. One hospital reported receiving a shipment of 2,300 N95 masks from a State strategic reserve, but the masks were not useable because the elastic bands had dry-rotted. Another hospital reported that the last two shipments it had received from a Federal agency contained PPE that expired in 2010. The shipment contained construction masks that looked different than traditional masks and did not contain a true N95 seal.”
Predictably, Trump denounced this inspector general and the reporters who asked him about the report. He can’t fire reporters, but I wouldn’t bet on the longevity of the inspector general who published this report.
During debate over the economic recovery program, Trump had said that he himself would be the only watchdog needed. The same night that Trump fired Inspector General Atkinson, he appointed a new inspector general to oversee the multi-trillion dollar coronavirus economic recovery program: White House lawyer Brian Miller. Maybe appointing one of his lawyers is his next best thing.