Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued an unqualified rebuke of his boss, President Donald Trump, in an official statement released early Saturday morning.
Horowitz’s missive, put out on official U.S. government stationary, is an unprecedented defense of his recently-fired colleague, now-former intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who oversaw the whistleblower complaint that eventually led to the the 45th president’s historic impeachment late last year.
“Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight,” Horowitz’s statement begins. “This includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done ‘by the book’ and consistent with the law.”
Atkinson was dismissed late Friday night by way of a presidential letter addressed to both congressional intelligence committees.
“As is the case with regard to other positions where I, as president, have the power of appointment, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, 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.”
Critics immediately termed the incident as yet another so-called “Friday Night Massacre,” an allusion to the Watergate scandal that eventually engulfed and brought down another Republican president.
At least some of that criticism was clearly shared by the lead inspector general within the president’s own administration.
Horowitz’s statement went on to declare his intent to keenly oversee the huge tranche of funds approved by Congress and the White House in response to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:
The Inspector General Community will continues to conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee. This includes [the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency‘s] Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and its efforts on behalf of American taxpayers, families, businesses, patients, and health care providers to ensure that over $2 trillion dollars in emergency federal spending is being used consistently with the law’s mandate.
The DOJ inspector general is also the chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an independent entity within the executive branch whose mission is defined by federal statute as working to “address integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies; and [to] increase the professionalism and effectiveness of personnel by developing policies, standards, and approaches to aid in the establishment of a well-trained and highly skilled workforce in the offices of the Inspectors General.”
The stunning nature of Horowitz’s direct criticism was not missed by legal observers.
“Remarkable statement by a SITTING [Inspector General],” noted former federal prosecutor Harry Litman via Twitter. “The firing is in the same general impeachment territory as the Ukraine affair, except that Trump already has burned down the House and satellite fires are raging out of control.”
National security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime that the firing was clear-cut political revenge.
“Atkinson’s firing was pure and naked retaliation for the crime of political betrayal: the president expects his appointees to put his interests before the law, and to cover up his misdeeds at all costs,” he said. “Inspector General Horowitz’s statement merely reiterates what we all know: there was no legitimate or justifiable reason for this firing, as everyone who is objective agrees Atkinson acted appropriately.”
So, what’s next for Horowitz after this?
“He’ll be next to go,” mused HuffPost columnist Kurt Bardella.
[image via Samuel Corum/Getty Images]
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