Two top Democrats are urging the Justice Department's internal watchdogs to investigate slanderous remarks made by Attorney General William Barr about the intelligence community official who elevated the whistleblower complaint regarding Donald Trump.
Appearing on Fox News on April 9, Barr said Trump had done "the right thing" when he fired former intelligence investigator general Michael Atkinson, suggesting that Atkinson had exceeded his mandate as IG by exploring "anything" and then reporting it back to Congress. But in a letter to two Justice Department officials, the Democratic chairs of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees said Barr had "blatantly mischaracterized" Atkinson's conduct.
"Mr. Barr’s remarks followed the President’s admission on April 4 that he fired Mr. Atkinson in retaliation for Mr. Atkinson’s handling—in accordance with the law—of the whistleblower complaint," Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler wrote. "Mr. Barr’s misleading remarks appear to have been aimed at justifying the President’s retaliatory decision to fire Mr. Atkinson."
Barr claimed that Atkinson had "ignored" Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance that he was "obliged to follow" regarding how to handle the whistleblower complaint, a total distortion intended to gaslight Americans about what transpired. In actuality, Atkinson had no legal or professional obligation to defer to the Justice Department, which had conveniently and perplexingly declined to investigate whether Trump broke any laws in his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"To the contrary, Mr. Atkinson faithfully discharged his legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General in accordance with federal law,” Schiff and Nadler wrote to Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz.
Schiff and Nadler further said that Barr had not only misrepresented the matter, he also sought to obscure the fact that DOJ and the White House had improperly coordinated their efforts in order to "keep Congress in the dark about the existence of the complaint."
"The role of Attorney General Barr and other senior DOJ officials, in coordination with the White House, in attempting to prevent the whistleblower complaint from reaching Congress — as required by law — warrants your attention," they wrote, referring to the complaint that sparked Trump’s impeachment trial.
The two added that Barr's remarks represent a "disturbing pattern of misrepresenting facts" about the conduct of other government officials, including his purposeful misrepresentation of the conclusions of Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
"Indeed, a federal judge recently examined Mr. Barr’s 'lack of candor' and concluded that Mr. Barr 'distorted the findings in the Mueller Report,' which 'cause[d] the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump.'"
The message reinforced points made in a similar letter sent to the Justice Department last week by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Mark Warner of Virginia. It's hard to know whether DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz will take up an investigation into Barr, but Horowitz has previously touted Atkinson's "integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight."