It’s somewhat reassuring to know that not every enormously idiotic idea that floats across what passes for Donald Trump’s brain gets translated into action…at least not yet anyway.
Cooler heads seem to have convinced the president not to follow through with an idea that The New York Times has reported that Trump has discussed with his senior advisors: firing Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general because he passed along what he considered a credible account of “urgent” presidential malfeasance from Trump’s hated whistleblower to Congress.
Citing “four people familiar with the discussions,” The Times reports:
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“Mr. Trump first expressed his dismay about Mr. Atkinson around the time the whistle-blower’s complaint became public in September. In recent weeks, he has continued to raise with aides the possibility of firing him, one of the people said.”
“The president has said he does not understand why Mr. Atkinson shared the complaint, which outlined how Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals at the same time he was withholding military aid from the country. He has said he believes Mr. Atkinson, whom he appointed in 2017, has been disloyal, one of the people said.”
“Mr. Trump’s private complaints about Mr. Atkinson have come as he has publicly questioned his integrity and accused him of working with the Democrats to sabotage his presidency.”
The newspaper notes that two of the people familiar with the president’s internal White House discussions believe his statements to be a mere venting of his frustrations rather than a serious attempt to illegally retaliate against the person who lent credence to the whistleblower’s revelations.
However, it’s important to note that Trump has exhibited a familiar pattern when a member of his administration violates his mafia-style insistence on complete and utter personal loyalty, rather than any dedication to the principles of the Constitution that government employees are sworn to uphold.
A look at his behavior with both former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions shows that Trump spends weeks criticizing those whom he feels don’t display sufficient fealty through nasty Twitter posts and comments to the press before ultimately pulling a cowardly rendition of his role on Celebrity Apprentice and firing them via social media to avoid any personal confrontations.
Any attempt to remove an inspector general would be seen as a particularly egregious move by Trump since he is the subject of the complaint that the intelligence agencies’ IG received and forwarded from the whistleblower. Any retaliatory actions by the president could be interpreted as yet another set of impeachable acts — an abuse of power and a coverup that amounts to obstruction of justice — particularly since all of the subsequent sworn testimony before the congressional impeachment panel hearings have corroborated the whistleblower’s accusations.
Not that Trump has any lack of liability for obstruction of justice charges already. His invention of the concept of “absolute immunity” to prevent any executive branch staff from respecting congressional subpoenas could alone be the basis for a strong argument that he’s gone far down the path of obstructing justice in a legitimate investigation by a co-equal branch of government with a constitutional mandate of executive oversight.
Given his record to date, it’s difficult to recommend betting that he won’t eventually fire Inspector General Atkinson whom he has already called to testify in the impeachment hearings along with the whistleblower. Trump’s M.O. is always to seek revenge against his perceived enemies and allege that they are guilty of the crimes of which he himself is being accused.
If the president ultimately fails to follow through with his verbalized desire to retaliate against the inspector general who was properly performing his duties, it will likely be because one of his advisors has managed to talk him off the ledge of self-destructive behavior in spite of Trump’s wishes rather than due to any change of heart on the vindictive president’s part.
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Original reporting by Maggie Haberman and