Top Democrats urge Justice Department internal watchdog to investigate AG William Barr

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."

A few Republicans furrow their brows over Trump’s inspectors general purge

Donald Trump’s firing of two inspectors general and public attack on a third, amid reports that he plans a broader purge of inspectors general, is drawing bipartisan concern—for now, anyway. 

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is working on a letter asking Trump to explain his firing of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community IG who referred the Ukraine call whistleblower’s report to Congress, helping to trigger Trump’s impeachment. Of course, that right there is the explanation for Trump’s firing of Atkinson, so asking for information is kind of performative. Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins are backing Grassley’s letter—but we know that only one of those three people has any possibility of actually standing up to Trump rather than plastering on a furrowed brow and folding.

“It is our responsibility to confirm that there are clear, substantial reasons for removal,” a draft of Grassley’s letter viewed by The Washington Post says. Which there are! They’re just totally corrupt reasons. And since every Senate Republican but one has let Trump know that they will never put any teeth in their concerns about him, he can safely ignore this like he has every other attempt at congressional oversight.

Trump also fired the acting inspector general for the Pentagon just before he was to take a position heading the panel conducting oversight of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus. You know, the one where Trump claimed “I’ll be the oversight” amid concerns that he would use the money as a slush fund to reward allies.

Additionally, he publicly attacked Christi Grimm, the Health and Human Services inspector general who issued a coronavirus response report that didn’t make the Trump administration look great.

Democrats are drafting bills to strengthen oversight of coronavirus stimulus funds and to protect inspectors general from firing without “evidence-based good cause,” in addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s formation of a select committee to look into the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic by issuing subpoenas that will be ignored.

Donald Trump is a corrupt and lawless president and he intends to use this crisis to free himself further from accountability and oversight.

Susan Collins has nothing to say about lessons in latest post-impeachment retaliation from Trump

Sen. Susan Collins didn't even manage to work herself up to "concerned" in reacting to impeached president Donald Trump's firing of Michael Atkinson from his post as Intelligence Community inspector general. "I have long been a strong advocate for the Inspectors General," the senator, a member of the Senate Select Committee Intelligence wrote.

Then she fluffed herself a bit. "In 2008, I coauthored with former Senators Claire McCaskill and Joe Lieberman The Inspector General Reform Act (P.L. 110-40), which among other provisions requires the President to notify the Congress 30 days prior to the removal of an Inspector General along with the reasons for the removal. In notifying Congress yesterday, the President followed the procedures in that law," and here's where we finally get to her reaction. "I did not find his rationale for removing Inspector General Atkinson to be persuasive."

Let's make sure her time is up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

So what are you going to do about it, Senator? "While I recognize that the President has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted." Oh, that's it? You're not going to do anything? Even fret your brow?

Fortunately for Collins, this time Trump has retaliated against a perceived enemy, there aren't any reporters around to remind her about that whole "the president has learned from" impeachment nonsense. She gets to issue statements from self-isolation without having to face questions about her own culpability for Trump's actions.

Ousted intelligence watchdog ‘disappointed and saddened’ by Trump. Welcome to the club

Michael Atkinson did the right thing. As Intelligence Community inspector general, when Atkinson became aware of a whistleblower complaint that had direct bearing on national security, he briefed Congress on it, ultimately setting in motion the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. That inquiry proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump had abused the power of the presidency by trying to force the Ukrainian president into announcing bogus investigations into Trump's top political rival in 2020, Joe Biden.

Over the weekend, Atkinson finally got axed by Trump—because in the midst of a global pandemic that is ravaging the United States, crushing hospitals, and tearing apart families and communities, retribution is Trump's top priority. In case there was any question about that (which there wasn't), Trump told reporters Saturday that Atkinson had been a "disgrace" who did "a terrible job." In other words, Atkinson prioritized the safety and security of the country over blind loyalty to Trump.

In a statement to reporters, Atkinson said he was “disappointed and saddened” to be ousted for "having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial inspector general." 

Not to trivialize Atkinson's heroism, but welcome to the club of being disillusioned by Trump—not that most of the members of that club ever expected Trump was capable of anything greater. Indeed, most knew Trump would be an epic disaster in all facets of government and basic human instincts, right down to the bitter end.

Sign and send to your U.S. representative: Investigate Trump for firing inspector general who brought whistleblower report to Congress.

Trump’s targeting of truth tellers is turning the intelligence community into a crowd of cowards

Donald Trump’s removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, his brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was not a “massacre” in the spirit of what happened with Richard Nixon’s dismissal of special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Because what raised the body count in Nixon’s case was that his own people resigned rather than carry out clearly immoral orders. That’s not a problem for Trump.

The whole story of Donald Trump’s occupation of the White House has been one in which every unit of the government—from the EPA to the DOJ to the State Department—has been systematically cleansed of competency in favor of reflexive obedience. So naturally no one at the White House had a second thought about escorting out a decorated veteran for the crime of speaking the truth, or another veteran for the crime of being related to someone Trump doesn’t like. And just as naturally, Trump had no hesitation in owning these actions.

But what Trump has done so far, may be just a hint of the destruction to come, and what he’s already done to the intelligence agencies represents a looming threat from both inside and outside the nation.

Every time Trump plumbs new depths of odiousness, his staff makes a scramble to create an excuse. On Friday, that excuse was that Vindman wasn’t being let go because he obeyed a congressional subpoena; it was all just part of a “shrinking” of Trump’s already wildly reduced White House staff. 

And every time Trump’s staff constructs one of these pretexts for why he’s not as awful as he seems, Trump rushes forward to make it clear that he so, so is. Just as he continuously blew up the various reasons that Republicans concocted as excuses for Trump’s actions in Ukraine, he couldn’t allow the public to think that he was anything less than a monster in sending away Vindman.

That’s why Trump was on Twitter Saturday morning to make it clear he was sacking the Ukraine expert for being “very insubordinate.” Why Yevgeny Vindman was also shipped off wasn’t clear. Apparently he was insubordinate adjacent. Trump’s advisers surely have an excuse for that one, too.

Of course, both Vindmans are just immigrants in the armed services. As The Washington Post reported last November, Trump’s attitude in that area was godawful on multiple fronts.

“The Trump administration has reversed almost all progress, out loud and with purpose. Their message to immigrant service members is the same as that to Vindman: You are foreign, you are suspect, you cannot belong.”

But if what Trump has done so far seems egregious (because it is), it’s barely a patch on things to come. As The Washington Post reports, Trump has his staff working up the removal of intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson. Atkinson’s involvement was simply that he notified Congress of the existence of a whistleblower complain as required by law

Who watches the watchmen? Not a damned soul, apparently. Or at least no one who is allowed to do anything about it. Like speak.

At the State Department, at the National Security Council, at the CIA, the FBI, the DOJ … everywhere in the government the actions have been the same. Long term non-partisan employees have been forced from their positions and roles that have never in the past been political have been made over in the service of Trump. By long tradition, the CIA director does not attend the State of the Union address to avoid even a symbolic suggestion that the agency acts out of anything but its best interpretation of the information. But Gina Haspel was there on Tuesday night, bouncing up with the best Republican jack-in-the-boxes to applaud every moment of Trump’s partisan attacks and game show stunts.

Even before Trump gets around to sacking Atkinson, the conversion of the intelligence community into another aspect of his campaign machinery is already clear. As Politico reports, the regular briefing of Congress on threats to the nation has been delayed. The reason for that delay: “fears of provoking Trump's ire.”

Even though the purpose of this annual appearance is to outline the biggest threats to the nation in front of the nation, intelligence agencies are now arguing to move the whole hearing behind closed doors. More than that, they want the whole threat overview classified. After all, people don’t need to know what the dangers are; not when the biggest is sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Intelligence agencies don’t want to tell Congress the truth about what is happening in public, because they’re afraid they might say something Trump doesn’t like. Because saying something that Trump doesn’t like can be punished. Even if it’s true.

Especially if it’s true.