President Trump slammed Michael Atkinson, the fired inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community, as a “disgrace,” saying Saturday that Mr. Atkinson did a “terrible job” and that he had the absolute right to fire him.
“I thought he did a terrible job — absolutely terrible,” Mr. Trump said at the White House, saying the former IG had taken a “fake” whistleblower report and fast-tracked it to Congress.
“Not a big Trump fan — that I can tell you,” the president said. “That man is a disgrace to IGs … he’s a total disgrace.”
Mr. Trump said it was his decision to fire Mr. Atkinson and he had the “absolute right” to do so.
The president on Friday had announced the firing of Mr. Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general whose concerns about a whistleblower complaint helped pave the way for Mr. Trump’s impeachment last year.
The president told Congress that he lost confidence in Mr. Atkinson, whom he had appointed to the post in May 2018.
Mr. Atkinson released a statement late Sunday defending his conduct and saying government employees who believe they witness wrongdoing should not allow “recent events” to “silence your voices.”
“It is hard not to think that the president’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General, and from my commitment to continue to do so,” he said.
Mr. Atkinson labeled a whistleblower complaint alleging Mr. Trump was improperly withholding aid to Ukraine “credible” and “urgent,” kick-starting a process that saw the Democrat-controlled House vote to impeach the president in December. The GOP-led Senate acquitted the president in February.
Democrats slammed Mr. Trump overnight, saying the president was improperly retaliating against Mr. Atkinson.
Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said it was “unconscionable that the president is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another an intelligence official simply for doing his job.”
“We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies,” he said.
Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and the panel chairman, complimented Mr. Atkinson for his professionalism and said he should have been able to work without political pressure.
“Like any political appointee, the Inspector General serves at the behest of the Executive,” Mr. Burr said. “However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure.”
Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general whose reports on FBI conduct Mr. Trump has applauded, said Mr. Atkinson is known throughout the IG community for his integrity and professionalism and cited testimony that Mr. Atkinson had handled the Ukraine whistleblower complaint “by the book.”
“The Inspector General community will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee,” Mr. Horowitz said.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.