SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers demanding that President Donald Trump explain why he fired the intelligence community inspector general.
The eight senators, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, say the explanation Trump gave for removing Michael Atkinson was insufficient and does not comply with the law. The president cited a lack of confidence in the intelligence community’s top watchdog.
“Congressional intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the statute,” the senators wrote in a letter Thursday. “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 IG independence.”
Trump defended the firing of Atkinson last weekend, calling him a “total disgrace” over his handling of the whistleblower complaint, which detailed Trump’s conversations with Ukraine’s president, Politico reported. Atkinson was required by law to transmit the complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees. The complaint led to Trump’s impeachment.
“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 a statement last week.
The 2008 law requires the president to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an inspector general. The senators also raised concern about Atkinson being immediately placed on paid administrative leave, effectively removing him from his post prior to the 30-day expiration.
Trump has taken an aggressive stance toward inspectors general, most recently criticizing the Health and Human Services Department’s watchdog over a report that revealed medical supply shortages and coronavirus testing issues across the country, according to Politico.
The president also removed the acting Pentagon inspector general, Glenn Fine, shortly after he was named to lead a watchdog panel overseeing implementation of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package that Congress approved last month.
Last week, Romney and other senators from both parties urged the president to ensure the independence of the special inspector general for pandemic recovery — a position they worked into the rescue bill and to provide Congress with details about its plans for rigorous oversight.
Trump ignited controversy when he signaled in a signing statement attached to the bill that his White House would supervise reports to Congress from the special inspector general for coronavirus relief.
Congress created inspectors general to combat waste, fraud and abuse, and to be independent watchdogs over federal agencies’ use of taxpayer dollars.
In Thursday’s letter, the senators underscore the role inspectors general play in holding agencies accountable and outlined removal procedures, which are designed to prevent political interference.
The senators say it is their responsibility to confirm that there are clear, substantial reasons for firing an inspector general, and want Trump to provide a more detailed explanation about removing Atkinson no later than Monday.