Late on Friday night, Donald Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, whom he chose for the post in 2017. The inspector general’s position is supposed to be to act as a kind of ombudsman and guardian to ensure that the government agency that they monitor is being true to its mission. Atkinson, a 15-year veteran of the justice department, was the person who received the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s extortion phone call to the Ukrainian president and thought it merited being passed on to Congress. All this was standard procedure.
But for Trump ‘standard procedure’ is serving and praising him and anything that falls short of that is betrayal and possibly treason. So he fired him, part of the never-ending search for ever higher levels of sycophancy.
In November last year, the New York Times reported that Trump had discussed with aides the possibility of firing Atkinson because he could not understand why the inspector general failed to dismiss the complaint. In a tweet, he suggested that Atkinson should be forced to testify at the impeachment hearings.
The removal of Atkinson fits a long pattern of retribution against the intelligence community. In May 2017 he fired James Comey, the director of the FBI, who was leading an investigation into his contacts with Russia during the presidential election.
More recently Maguire was also ousted and replaced by Richard Grenell, who had been US ambassador to Germany and is a strong Trump backer. The president has nominated Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe to the permanent position but he must await Senate confirmation.
Last month more than a hundred intelligence and national security professionals signed a joint letter warning that Trump “has created an existential danger to the United States” and endorsing Biden for president.
Late on Friday or Saturday evening is the chosen time when presidents release news that they would prefer the public not know about. The thinking is that people don’t pay much attention to the news over the weekend and that by the time Monday rolls around, this would have blown over as other news displaces it.
But I think that that is outdated thinking, from a time when most people got their news from the weekly evening national news broadcasts of the major TV networks and people watched them after they came home from work, perhaps while eating dinner. Over the weekend, many of these news programs get pre-empted by sports and other shows. Also people might be out of the home doing other stuff on weekend evenings.
But things are different now. With the internet, news has become a 24/7 operation and people actually have more time on the weekend to get up to speed on the news. since that can do it at any time This becomes even more pronounced during this time when people cannot go out on the weekends. Furthermore, Friday and Saturday night news becomes fresh fodder for the Sunday morning talk shows and releasing information at those times may actually amplify the news.
So Trump is, as usual, stuck in the past.