The president informed Congress of the move in a Friday-evening letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Atkinson opposed the decision by then-acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire to withhold the whistleblower complaint from the House and Senate intelligence committees — in particular, Maguire’s decision to seek guidance on the issue from the Justice Department, rather than turn it over to Congress as required by law.
The impasse highlighted the fact that whistleblower protection laws never envisioned a scenario in which the director of national intelligence would withhold a complaint from lawmakers — especially one the inspector general had deemed “urgent” after investigating the matter. Nor did they envision a scenario in which an intelligence agent would blow the whistle on the president, whose unique legal status made the situation unprecedented.
Atkinson was nominated by Trump in November 2017 after serving 16 years at the Justice Department. The inspector general conducts investigations and reviews of activities within the purview of the director of national intelligence, and also handles whistleblower complaints from within the intelligence community.
The issue of whistleblower protection was a central focus of Atkinson’s confirmation hearing, where he pledged to establish “a safe program where whistleblowers do not have fear of retaliation and where they’re confident that the system will treat them fairly and impartially.”
Atkinson’s removal follows that of Maguire, who was removed after his staff briefed members of Congress about Russian interference in the 2020 campaign.
Maguire was replaced in the acting role by Richard Grenell, Trump’s fiercely loyal ambassador to Germany. Weeks into the job, Grenell has plowed ahead with a series of internal changes despite the president announcing a permanent pick for the director of national intelligence post, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas).
Those moves led to furious denunciations from Democrats and a relatively cool reception from Republicans, who have nonetheless signaled that they will not oppose Ratcliffe.
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.