Trump Ousts Inspectors General

A series of Friday night firings.

WaPo (“Trump to Fire Intelligence Watchdog Who Had Key Role in Ukraine Complaint“):

President Trump is firing the intelligence community inspector general whose insistence on telling lawmakers about a whistle-blower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine triggered impeachment proceedings last fall, the president told lawmakers in a letter late Friday.

The move came as Mr. Trump announced his intent to name a White House aide as the independent watchdog for $500 billion in corporate pandemic aid and notified Congress of other nominees to inspector general positions, including one that would effectively oust the newly named chairman of a panel to oversee how the government spends $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

The slew of late-night announcements, coming as the world’s attention is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, raised the specter of a White House power play over the community of inspectors general, independent officials whose mission is to root out waste, fraud and abuse within the government.

Mr. Trump is ousting the intelligence community inspector general, Michael K. Atkinson, because he lost confidence in him, the president wrote in a letter to leaders of the two congressional intelligence committees. He gave no further explanation.

“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as president, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, it is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Mr. Trump wrote. “That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”

The president has long discussed his desire to fire several inspectors general, and he has been talking to aides about his desire to oust Mr. Atkinson since last fall, tarring the inspector general as disloyal because he sought to share information with Congress about the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into delivering him personal political benefits.

That Trump fired Atkinson isn’t the least bit surprising. It’s not even the most blatantly self-interested firing he’s made; it’s probably not in the top five. That he’s a petty man who casually violates the norms of his office is by now so well established that it’s barely worth pointing out.

That he’s putting cronies into other key oversight positions is more problematic still but . . . well, see above.

One would think that, after Watergate, Congress would have changed the law and put these positions outside the scope of a President’s ability to fire without approval from the appropriate oversight committees. Of course, in this particular instance, it’s likely irrelevant since it’s unfathomable that Senate Republicans would find him guilty for breaking the law.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mikey says:

    The move came as Mr. Trump announced his intent to name a White House aide as the independent watchdog for $500 billion in corporate pandemic aid and notified Congress of other nominees to inspector general positions, including one that would effectively oust the newly named chairman of a panel to oversee how the government spends $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

    Imagine that.

    But we all knew he’d find a way to get his grubby mitts on that money and shovel it into his greedy fucking maw.

    I never imagined in my life I’d see this level of utterly corrupt filth not only excused, but celebrated by nearly half of my fellow citizens.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Never let a crisis go to waste.

  3. Kingdaddy says:

    He must fear that, if he were to hire, for any position, a person who’s competent and not a crony, his penis would fall off. Maybe an old Gypsy woman warned him that would happen.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    He is who we all said he was back in 2016.

  5. Lounsbury says:

    Congress would have changed the law and put these positions outside the scope of a President’s ability to fire without approval from the appropriate oversight committees.

    If there is a key take away from this experience is that the system’s reliance on Norms has to be addressed with reinforced controls for key sensitive positions such that the Executive can’t execute on this (or a mechanism where it can be invalidated sans recourse to courts).

    This really should not be a partisan conclusion

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Digby cites POLITICO:

    All of which leaves Republicans even more nervous about calls for allowing universal voting by mail this November. Politico reports Republicans have launched a multimillion-dollar effort to block pandemic-driven changes to voting rules. Their efforts are being coordinated at the state and local levels in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Georgia:

    The enterprise — which includes more than two dozen GOP officials, including lawyers dedicated entirely to litigation — shows how completely the pandemic has upended the 2020 election. While litigation over voting issues is not uncommon, the coronavirus — and the likely obstacles it will create for voting in November — has brought the issue to the forefront of the campaign.

    The public health crisis is already injecting a huge X-factor into the election, with impossible-to-predict effects on voter turnout, and officials in both parties acknowledge the fights over voting laws could affect the outcome of the election.

    “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” Trump told reporters at the White House Friday without citing evidence. Ari Berman (Give Us the Ballot) rebuts that claim by stating the obvious:

    GOPs will do everything they can do use the virus to restrict voting. It’s time to reread The Shock Doctine.

  7. Kathy says:


    Update to the Trump-English dictionary:

    Cheat: see voter fraud.
    Voter fraud: voting for someone who is not Trump; voting for someone who is not the Republican candidate.
    Witch-hunt: any oversight on Trump.
    I always thought/believed [insert term]; I thought/believed [insert term] before the experts/anyone else: We have always been at war with Eastasia!!

  8. CSK says:

    Cult45 is really trashing Atkinson, as they are Brett Crozier.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:


    And what did you expect??

  10. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Pretty much exactly what I saw. The Conservative Nuthouse is referring to Atkinson as the “coup plotter.”

  11. Jon says:

    Marcy Wheeler has an interesting take where she speculates that, in addition to this being retribution for the inspector doing his job, it is also proactive ass-covering to prevent future accountability for screwing up the coronavirus response.

  12. Scott F. says:


    This really should not be a partisan conclusion

    But, it is partisan. It’s nothing but partisan.

    “Norms” or “reinforced controls” – what does it matter if the Executive’s party is complicit? As James notes, half of the co-equal Legislative Branch denies Trump’s criminality and is willing to turn a blind eye to the destruction of the checks within our institutions in their venal attempt to hold power.

    I’m in my fifties and there’s never been a time in my life where I’ve had such little confidence that good will prevail in this country. 9/11 brought the US together in some ways, but this response to the pandemic is tearing us apart. Thousands upon thousands more Americans are going to die due to COVID-19 than might otherwise have had to because of this hideous president and his egregious enablers, yet there’s no certainty that Trump and the GOP will face any consequences.

    I wish I had more faith, but I just can’t summon it these days.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Is all this mayhem the giant “Fuck You” that certain people, who voted for Trump in 2016, wanted? I wonder if they are enjoying all of this…

  14. Mike says:

    Well yeah, can’t have those Dudley Do Rights looking around when there’s crime to be had. Might be best to do a Help America Go Fund Me. Raise a billion and give to the Trump if he steps down. He can finally be a billionaire. Everyone wins.

  15. Pete S says:

    No, won’t work. He has his eyes on the $500B in the rescue package, and is setting himself up for a nice chunk of it. Can’t get distracted by chump change like a billion dollars when a real score is in sight.