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Barr defends Trump's firing of intelligence community inspector general

Trump under scrutiny for ousting inspectors general

Attorney General William Barr defended President Trump's decision to fire the intelligence community inspector general who disclosed the whistleblower report that kicked off the impeachment inquiry of the president, saying Thursday that the inspector general had overstepped his "fairly narrow statute."

Mr. Trump informed Congress last week that he intended to fire Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community watchdog. Atkinson had deemed the whistleblower report that raised Mr. Trump's July 25 call with the Ukrainian president credible, and informed Congress of the "urgent" complaint.

In an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham Thursday evening on "The Ingraham Angle," Barr said that Atkinson had "ignored" the Justice Department's conclusion that the report was not worth investigating.

"He was obliged to follow the interpretation of the Department of Justice and he ignored it," Barr said. "I think a president was correct in firing him."

"I think he wants responsible watchdogs," Barr said of Mr. Trump.

In the letter Mr. Trump sent last Friday to Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said he was "exercising my power as president" to remove Atkinson. 

"It is extremely important that we promote the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of Federal programs and activities," he wrote. But, the letter continued, it is "vital" that Mr. Trump have the "fullest confidence" in the Inspector General, and "that is no longer the case."

Mr. Trump called Atkinson a "disgrace" on Saturday, claiming that the whistleblower report which kicked off the impeachment inquiry was "fake."

"I thought he did a terrible job," Mr. Trump told reporters. He added that he has the "absolute right" to remove Atkinson, who was a Trump appointee.

Atkinson issued a two-page statement about his removal from the role Sunday. In the statement, Atkinson said he had "faithfully discharged" his duties as inspector general and spent his nearly two-decade career serving "without regard to partisan favor or political fear."

"It is hard to not to think 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 do so," Atkinson wrote in the statement.

Mr. Trump was impeached by the House on two articles, one for abuse of power and the other for obstruction of Congress. The Senate acquitted him on both articles. The charges stemmed from his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival. 

Barr has emerged as one of Mr. Trump's staunchest defenders in the administration, and in October 2019 launched a probe into potential abuses in the FBI's own Russia investigation.

Barr told Ingraham that this investigation, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, would probably result in a report.

"I think a report may be, and probably will be, a byproduct of his activity, but his primary focus isn't to prepare a report," Barr said. "He is looking to bring to justice people who were engaged in abuses, if he can show that they were criminal violations."

Olivia Gazis contributed to this report.

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