On Monday, Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman penned a profile of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who has found himself in the center of the exploding scandal about President Donald Trump’s request for Biden dirt from the Ukraine — and the Director of National Intelligence subsequently moving to block a whistleblower on the incident from speaking to Congress.
What makes Atkinson’s determination that the whistleblower complaint is credible particularly noteworthy, wrote Bertrand and Lippman, is that he is a Trump appointee — and that he has a rock-solid reputation as a “straight shooter.”
“When he sounded the alarm to Congress earlier this month about an ‘urgent’ complaint he’d received from an intelligence official involving Trump’s communications, those who’ve worked with him were surprised — and took it seriously,” they wrote. “‘As soon as I saw that it was Atkinson, I thought, ‘Oh shit, this is real,” said one of Atkinson’s former Justice Department colleagues. ‘He’s not a political guy. He’s a classic career prosecutor who’s only going to call balls and strikes.’
Atkinson served in the Justice Department for 16 years before being appointed Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) by Trump in late 2017. His job is to review activities and wrongdoing complaints that fall under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the umbrella organization above all spy agencies in the United States.
“There’s no evidence Atkinson is a political partisan in either direction — a search of campaign finance records, for instance, finds no evidence that he’s ever donated to a candidate,” wrote Bertrand and Lippman. “And those who know Atkinson say he wouldn’t have gone this far if he didn’t believe his actions were consistent with the law. ‘Michael is a careful, temperate, and thoughtful lawyer,’ said David Laufman, who worked with Atkinson in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. ‘He would not have gone down this road unless he believed he was on sound legal footing.'”
From the outset of his confirmation, they noted, Atkinson made clear to Congress that he took precisely this kind of scenario seriously.
“The issue of whistleblower protection was a central focus of Atkinson’s confirmation hearing, where he pledged to establish ‘a safe program where whistleblowers do not have fear of retaliation and where they’re confident that the system will treat them fairly and impartially,'” they wrote. “He also testified that he would consider resigning if he were prevented from pursuing an investigation that he found significant or to be a potential abuse of the ODNI. But he indicated that it would be a last resort.”
In the weeks and months ahead, Atkinson’s commitment may be tested like never before.