Atkinson — who previously alerted Congress about a whistleblower complaint, which sparked the president’s impeachment — released a statement on Sunday evening to reporters where he shed light on his side of the story.
The whistleblower alleged Trump was looking for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden from Ukraine’s president. The complaint also alleged Trump withheld U.S. security aid in doing so.
Atkinson believes the president disapproves of his fair handling of the complaint.
“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 said.
In the letter, Atkinson also explained his role as inspector general, noting that he was obligated to serve as an outlet for whistleblowers to disclose urgent matters.
“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.”
Although Trump disapproved of Atkinson’s stance despite him doing his job, he admitted that he is appreciative of those who spoke publicly in support of his decision.
“With regard to the Ukrainian whistleblower matter, I am grateful to the many individuals who spoke publicly in support of the ICIG’s action in administering the Whistleblower’s disclosure,” he wrote.
Former IC IG Atkinson issues a remarkable statement on his removal from office by Trump.— Olivia Gazis (@Olivia_Gazis) April 6, 2020
“It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derived from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General” pic.twitter.com/r2ZGYJ5KDJ
Atkinson’s statement follows Trump’s remarks at Saturday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. When asked about his firing of Atkinson, Trump did not hold back with his opinion, describing the inspector general as a “total disgrace.”
“I thought he did a terrible job,” Trump said. “Absolutely terrible.”
See Trump’s remarks below:
Question: "Wasn't Michael Atkinson doing the job… he was supposed to do when he simply took the whistleblower complaint to Congress… Why did you decide to terminate him?"— The Hill (@thehill) April 4, 2020
President Trump: "I thought he did a terrible job." pic.twitter.com/jDMTj93zxN
Trump’s decision to fire Atkinson has been met with opposition from members of both political parties. From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Mass.) to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), many have expressed concern about Trump’s decision.
On Saturday, Grassley released a statement sharing his reaction to Trump’s action. He called on the Trump administration to further explain the decision.
“[Inspectors general] help drain the swamp, so any removal demands an explanation,” Grassley wrote. “Congress has been crystal clear that written reasons must be given when IGs are removed for a lack of confidence. More details are needed from the administration.”
Initially, Trump said Atkinson would be removed after 30 days, but Atkinson was placed on administrative leave, as Politico reports.