Angus King calls for Senate hearing into firing of intel watchdog

The Senate should hold a hearing on President Donald Trump’s decision to sack the intelligence community’s top watchdog, an Intelligence Committee member said on Monday.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who sits on the powerful panel, said officials such as the acting director of national intelligence and Michael Atkinson — the intelligence community’s inspector general whom Trump fired late Friday night — should be put under oath.

“It should be an open hearing to have members of the administration come forward and provide an explanation,” King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said in a phone interview, calling Trump’s decision to fire Atkinson “terrible on a lot of levels.”

Trump has defended the firing, telling reporters on Saturday during a White House coronavirus task force briefing that the longtime public official was a “total disgrace” for the way he handled a whistleblower complaint that led to the president’s impeachment.

But King cautioned that even a public hearing might not yield many answers because “this was a decision made principally by the president, probably without consulting much of anyone else.”

“We don’t need to know why he did it — he said it. The president yesterday said it!” King quipped.

A spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the panel’s plans. The Senate is scheduled to return to regular session on April 20, but several senators have cast doubt on that timeline given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Atkinson, for his part, released a lengthy statement Sunday night about his firing, asserting that Trump removed him simply for doing his job.

“It is hard not to think that the president’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General,” Atkinson wrote.

Democrats have condemned the firing as an abuse of power and a brazen act of politically motivated retribution by a president emboldened after the Senate acquitted him in his impeachment trial. Republicans have been tepid in their criticism of the decision, but some, including Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said the firing “demands an explanation.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who presided over a pro forma session of the Senate on Monday morning, agreed.

“I think we should get more detail. I agree with that,” she said. “It’s such an odd time it’s hard to say how we’re going to get that info — I mean, you know what kind of priority that information is going to have — but I think that’ll all come out.”

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