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Trump defends firing of intelligence community watchdog who triggered impeachment

Michael Atkinson had notified Congress of a whistleblower complaint that launched the impeachment proceedings.

President Trump on April 2, 2020
President Trump on April 2, 2020
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Updated: April 4, 2020 - 6:20pm

President Trump on Saturday defended his firing of intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson the day before, calling Atkinson a "total disgrace" and asserting his "absolute right" to dismiss him. 

At a press conference that mostly focused on the government's efforts to contain the coronavirus, the president at one point responded to a journalist's question about Atkinson's firing by claiming that the inspector general "did a terrible job, absolutely terrible." 

"He took a fake report and brought it to Congress… not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you," Trump said, adding that he felt Atkinson was "a disgrace to IGs." 

"[It was] my decision. I have the absolute right," the president told media at the press conference.

On Friday night Trump notified Congress that he intended to fire Atkinson, whose handling of whistleblower complaint last summer led to the impeachment proceedings, two sources said at the time. 

Trump had sent a letter to the Senate intelligence committee saying he had lost confidence in the attorney, who previously worked at the Department of Justice. 

Atkinson was the official who notified Congress last summer that an intelligence community whistleblower claimed in a complaint that President Trump was trying to tie aid to Ukraine to the country’s willingness to investigate allegations surrounding Joe Biden and 2016 election meddling. 

That notification prompted Democrats to begin the impeachment inquiry, which ended in January with President Trump’s acquittal in the Senate.