In a New York Times letter to the editor published on April 9, members of the Cornell Law School Class of 1991 condemned President Donald Trump’s recent decision to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson J.D. ’91.
Atkinson set in motion Trump’s impeachment when he sent a whistleblower complaint from a still-unnamed government official in an August 2019 letter to both of Congress’ intelligence committees.
The complaint claimed that Trump “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” Atkinson wrote. The ensuing Trump-Ukraine scandal lasted from September to February, culminating in Trump’s acquittal by the Senate on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Gideon Aronoff J.D. ’91, who authored the letter to the editor, called Trump’s removal “politically motivated,” arguing that Atkinson acted in line with his role under federal law and followed Cornell Law’s motto: “lawyers in the best sense.”
Trump removed Atkinson from his position on April 3, writing in a letter to the leaders of the two congressional intelligence committees that he had lost confidence in the government watchdog.
“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” Trump wrote. “That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
But Trump’s comments at an April 4 White House press briefing suggest that he fired Atkinson, at least in part, because of the whistleblower complaint.
“I thought [Atkinson] did a terrible job,” Trump said. “He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress.”
The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, established in 2010, is responsible for overseeing and “detecting fraud, waste and mismanagement” in the 16 intelligence organizations that make up the federation, according to its website.
Trump nominated Atkinson in November 2017 and confirmed him as inspector general in May 2018, replacing Wayne Stone.
Atkinson has since been replaced by Thomas Monheim, the current Acting Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.
“It’s hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General,” Atkinson wrote in a statement after his firing.
Aronoff echoed Atkinson’s statement.
“Michael did his job as inspector general and was fired for it,” Aronoff wrote. “The American people deserve much better.”