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Michael Atkinson becomes latest Trump-appointed official to be targeted by one of his tweets

The inspector general had little choice but to find the whistleblower complaint credible. Trump is mad at him anyway.

Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community, leaves the US Capitol after testifying privately before the House Intelligence Committee on October 4, 2019.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson is the latest Trump-appointed government official to come under fire from the president. And the reasons President Trump is upset with him are simultaneously extremely weak and highly revealing.

On Sunday, Trump posted a tweet hyping a new effort led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, to call into question Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower complaint that first sounded the alarm about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and that eventually led to him being impeached.

“ICIG Michael Atkinson facing serious questions,” Trump wrote, along with a quote from Nunes suggesting that Atkinson is somehow part of an anti-Trump conspiracy with Democrats. “The ICIG never wanted proof!”

Atkinson was appointed to his current role in 2017. He had a relatively low profile until this past September, when he determined that the whistleblower complaint detailing how Trump tried to leverage Ukrainian diplomacy and official White House acts to gain opposition research for his reelection campaign was credible and rose to the level of an “urgent concern.”

Atkinson ultimately alerted Congress to the existence of the complaint, which prompted the White House to release a summary of Trump’s now-infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. And here’s the important point: As I’ve previously explained, that call summary corroborated the whistleblower complaint both in its broad outlines and with regard to specific details. It illustrated why Atkinson likely felt he had little choice but to determine the complaint was credible.

Throughout the ensuing impeachment process, however, Trump has tried to turn reality on its head by insisting that his move to release the call summary somehow refuted the whistleblower complaint and exonerated him.

As he did with the Russia investigation, Trump’s tweet about Atkinson indicates that instead of defending his conduct on the merits, he’d like to discredit the entire impeachment process as the result of “deep state” machinations to take him down — even when he has nobody to blame but himself.

Atkinson is the latest Trump-appointed official the president has turned on

Trump promised on the campaign trail to only “hire the best people,” but Atkinson is now the latest official he’s appointed to be on the receiving end of one of his salty tweets (or worse).

Just last month, Trump tweeted a hint that he was considering moving on from FBI Director Christopher Wray because Wray did a TV interview about the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation that didn’t indulge Trump’s absurd conspiracy theories about the bureau —namely, that the FBI is biased against him and is wrong about Russia (not Ukraine) being the main culprit of election interference in 2016.

And, of course, Trump spent much of 2018 trashing then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — a move that was undoubtedly justified given Sessions’s misleading sworn statements about his contacts with Russians during the campaign, but also one that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. (Sessions resigned that November.)

The common thread in all these cases is that Trump thinks the officials he appoints should do his bidding, and under no circumstances do or say anything that undermines his position.

Along those lines, the New York Times reported in November that Trump was considering firing Atkinson because Atkinson had “been disloyal” by not doing more to suppress the whistleblower complaint.

That reporting suggests Trump’s concept of government as a protection racket for him hasn’t evolved much since early 2017, when he infamously demanded then-FBI Director James Comey pledge loyalty to him in the weeks leading up to his firing.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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