Michael Atkinson (Inspector General)
|Inspector General of the Intelligence Community|
|Assumed office |
May 17, 2018
|Preceded by||Charles McCullough|
|Born||May 16, 1964|
Oswego, New York, U.S.
|Education||Syracuse University (BA)|
Cornell University (JD)
Michael K. Atkinson (born May 16, 1964) is an American attorney. He worked for the United States Department of Justice for about 15 years before becoming the second Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. He assumed office on May 17, 2018.
Atkinson was born in Oswego, New York, and was raised in Pulaski, New York. He graduated from Pulaski Academy and Central School in 1982 and earned his Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse University in 1986 and his Juris Doctor from Cornell Law School in 1991.
Legal career in private practice and the Justice Department
After graduating from law school, Atkinson was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, and joined the law firm of Winston & Strawn, where he worked for 11 years, first as an associate and then as a partner.
After the September 11 attacks, Atkinson decided to enter public service, and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for 15 years. He was a trial attorney in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Fraud Section, from 2002 through 2006 and Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia from 2006 through 2016. Atkinson then moved to the Justice Department's National Security Division.
Major cases on which Atkinson worked while in the Justice Department included the prosecution of former U.S. Representative William J. Jefferson on corruption charges (of which Jefferson was convicted) and the campaign finance investigation into D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (which was closed in 2015 without charges being brought). Atkinson received the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service for his work on the Jefferson case.
Inspector General of the Intelligence Community
Atkinson became Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG) in May 2018. He was nominated to the position in November 2017 by President Donald Trump, and was confirmed by the United States Senate by voice vote on May 14, 2018. At his confirmation hearings, Atkinson indicated that he would bring order to the troubled ICIG's office, which had a reputation for dysfunction, and pledged to revive a whistleblower program that had become virtually defunct under the previous Inspector General, saying that he would "encourage, operate, and enforce a program for authorized disclosures by whistleblowers within the intelligence community that validates moral courage without compromising national security and without retaliation." Restoring the whistleblower program was a major priority among members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In August 2019, Atkinson, as inspector general, received a formal complaint from a whistleblower within the U.S. Intelligence Community who stated that they had learned, in the course of normal duties, that Trump had abused his power "to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election," specifically by pressuring a foreign government (Ukraine) to investigate a domestic political rival. The whistleblower, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer detailed to the White House, submitted the report to Atkinson under the provisions of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA).
Atkinson looked into the complaint, and interviewed several government officials whom the whistleblower identified as having information to substantiate his claims. On August 26, having found the complaint to be both "credible" and "of urgent concern" (as defined by the ICWPA), Atkinson transmitted the complaint to Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Under ICWPA, the DNI "shall" forward a complaint deemed credible and of urgent concern, within seven days of receipt, to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The Trump administration, however, withheld the complaint from Congress; Steven Engel of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel issued a determination saying that the acting DNI did not need to give the complaint to Congress because, in the opinion of the OLC, the complaint was not related to "an intelligence activity" under the acting DNI's authority.
Clashing with Maguire, Atkinson himself notified Congress about the existence of the whistleblower report. In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee, Atkinson said that he and Maguire were "at an impasse" and wrote that "As it now stands, my unresolved differences with the Acting DNI are affecting the execution of two of my most important duties and responsibilities" (to whistleblowers and to Congress). The Trump administration eventually released the complaint following demands for its release from the Senate and House. The complaint prompted the launch of a House impeachment inquiry against Trump. The whistleblower complaint brought public attention to Atkinson, who previously was a little-known official.
- "Response to Questionnaire for Completion by Presidential Nominees" (PDF). United States Senate. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
- Inspector General who received Trump complaint is Pulaski native, Syracuse grad, Syracuse.com (September 27, 2019).
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- Statement of Michael K. Atkinson, Nominee for Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (January 17, 2018).
- Zachary Cohen, Whistleblower controversy thrusts little-known Trump appointee into the limelight, CNN (September 23, 2019).
- Morgan Chalfant, Meet the Trump-appointed IG at center of whistleblower drama, The Hill (September 26, 2019).
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- PN1252 — Michael K. Atkinson — Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 115th Congress (2017-2018), Congress.gov.
- Natasha Bertrand & Daniel Lippman, The intelligence watchdog at the center of Ukraine firestorm, Politico (September 23, 2019).
- Barrett, Devlin (September 26, 2019). "Whistleblower claimed Trump abused his office and that White House officials tried to cover it up". The Washington Post.
- Sullivan, Eileen (September 26, 2019). "Whistle-Blower's Complaint Says White House Tried to 'Lock Down' Ukraine Call Records". The New York Times.
- Goldman, Adam; Schmidt, Michael S.; Barnes, Julian E. (September 26, 2019). "Whistle-Blower Is a C.I.A. Officer Who Was Detailed to the White House". The New York Times.
- Kel McClanahan (September 17, 2019). "Q&A on Whistleblower Complaint Being Withheld from Congressional Intelligence Committees". Just Security.
- Margaret Taylor (September 17, 2019). "The Mysterious Whistleblower Complaint: What Is Adam Schiff Talking About?". Lawfare.
- Jacob Schulz, OLC Issues an Opinion About the "Urgent Concern" Determination on the Whistleblower Complaint by the DNI, Lawfare (September 25, 2019).
- Matt Zapotosky & Devlin Barrett, Justice Dept. rejected investigation of Trump phone call just weeks after it began examining the matter, The Washington Post (September 25, 2019).
- Engle, Steven. ""Urgent Concern" Determination by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community". www.justice.gov. US DOJ. Retrieved September 28, 2019.
- Bowden, John (September 21, 2019). "Timeline: The Trump whistleblower complaint". The Hill. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
- Matt Stieb, Senate Passes Unanimous Resolution to Hand Whistle-blower Complaint to Intel Committees, New York (September 24, 2019).
- House Demands Trump Release Whistleblower Complaint, Courthouse News Service (September 25, 2019).
- Nicholas Fandos & Sheryl Gay Stolberg, House Democrats Issue First Subpoena in Impeachment Inquiry, New York Times (September 27, 2019).
- "Trump wants to fire the intelligence watchdog who told Congress about the whistleblower's complaint". www.msn.com. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
- Haberman, Maggie; Schmidt, Michael S. (November 12, 2019). "Trump Has Considered Firing Intelligence Community Inspector General". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
- Zhao, Christina (November 12, 2019). "Two GOP senators warn Trump against firing Intel Committee Inspector General: "I would oppose"". Newsweek. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
- Brigham, Bob. "Trump trying to fire inspector general is a confession he 'did something criminal': Nicolle Wallace". www.rawstory.com. Retrieved November 13, 2019.