Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general at the center of the so-called “whistleblower” report, is earning Robert Mueller-level adoration by the press.
Atkinson, we are told, is a truth-seeker with no partisan agenda or political grudge. “The intelligence community’s chief watchdog, Michael Atkinson, is known to his peers and colleagues as a highly cautious ‘straight shooter’ who tends to keep his head down,” cooed Politico reporter Natasha Bertrand on September 23.
The former prosecutor’s resume is touted as proof that the long-time public servant only is acting in the best interest of the country; his motives are not to be questioned, we are chastised. (This description follows a pattern similar to the way the media portrayed dossier author Christopher Steele and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.)
Atkinson is “a no-nonsense, serious and nonpartisan career prosecutor who showed a strong commitment to the law throughout his nearly two-decade career at the Department of Justice,” insisted a puff piece in The Hill on September 26.
One critical period in Atkinson’s resume, however, has been overlooked—probably intentionally—by his boosters in the media: His work as a top deputy in the Justice Department in 2016 and 2017 during the very same time that the DOJ was investigating Trump campaign aides and, after the election, incoming administration officials. Atkinson worked directly for two figures involved in both the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign and the set-up of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
In July 2016, the exact month that former FBI Director James Comey officially opened a case against the Trump campaign, Atkinson was named senior counsel to John Carlin, the head of the National Security Division. Carlin was Robert Mueller’s chief of staff when he ran the FBI and was appointed NSD chief by President Obama in 2013.
Carlin’s name has surfaced numerous times in the congressional inquiry into the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. According to closed-door testimony by former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, Carlin regularly was briefed by former deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe on the Trump-Russia collusion probe.
Under questioning by Rep. James Jordan (R-Ohio) last year, one of Carlin’s top aides confirmed that Carlin notified him in August 2016 that the FBI had opened an investigation into the Trump campaign and that a team of NSD officials worked with the FBI on the case.
In his testimony, George Toscas, former deputy attorney general for the NSD, referred to unnamed lawyers who attended various briefings with the FBI in 2016. He did not mention Atkinson’s name—although several names in the transcript are redacted—but it stretches credulity to think that the senior counsel to the division’s chief would have been unaware of such an explosive and unprecedented investigation.
Further, the National Security Division chiefly is responsible for the Justice Department’s oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSD “closely coordinates with the FBI and other Intelligence Community agencies on . . . matters relating to FISA and other national security laws.”
That means Carlin’s shop was involved in handling the FISA warrant on Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The original FISA warrant, signed by former FBI Director James Comey and Carlin’s colleague, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, used the bogus Steele dossier as evidence to obtain the FISA court’s permission to spy on Page for one year. The warrant accused Page of being a foreign agent yet he has never been charged with a crime.
In September 2016, Carlin moderated an NSD event that featured speeches by Comey, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former CIA Director John Brennan and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Carlin abruptly resigned shortly thereafter amid controversy related to his handling of FISA material.
Carlin was replaced by Mary McCord: Atkinson stayed on as her senior counsel. A few days after Trump was sworn-in, McCord accompanied Sally Yates to a meeting with White House counsel Don McGahn. The purpose of the meeting was to warn the White House that Mike Flynn may have violated an arcane federal law and was at risk of being “blackmailed” by the Russians.
Coincidentally, both Carlin and McCord have been effusive in their praise of their former counsel. “As soon as I saw that [Atkinson] had recommended it be sent to Congress, that’s all I needed to know it was legit,” McCord told CNN last week. “The mere fact he was not on anyone’s radar is points to the fact that his sense of urgency is credible.”
Atkinson is “someone who is very deliberate, thoughtful and tries to carefully review facts … not someone who seeks attention,” Carlin said in the same article. (Carlin now is a CNBC contributor.)
Another red flag is that Atkinson sent two letters about the “whistleblower” to the House Intelligence committee instead of its Senate counterpart. During his January 2018 public testimony to the Senate Intelligence committee prior to his confirmation, Atkinson said if there was a dispute with the Director of National Intelligence about the veracity of a claim, he would “talk to this Committee if that situation arose to that level, to keep you informed about those events.”
But Atkinson instead notified the highly-partisan House Intelligence committee led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the same lawmaker who has lied to the American people for three years about evidence of Russian collusion. In a letter dated September 9 addressed to Schiff and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Atkinson alerted the committee that the acting Director of National Intelligence did not agree with Atkinson’s judgment that the claim was an “urgent concern.” (An assessment somewhat laughable now that the call’s transcript is public.)
By the time that letter reached Schiff’s office, however, the committee chairman already had made cryptic insinuations about the whistleblower. “Trump is withholding vital military aid to Ukraine, while his personal lawyer seeks help from the Ukraine government to investigate his political opponent,” Schiff tweeted out of the blue on August 28, just two weeks after the “whistleblower” complaint was written. “It doesn’t take a stable genius to see the magnitude of this conflict.”
Subsequently, Atkinson sent another letter to Schiff and Nunes on September 17 which is best described as the IG tattling on the acting director for not responding the way Atkinson wanted him to respond.
Republicans should be raising several questions about Atkinson: Was he aware of or in any way involved in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump campaign? Did he handle the FISA warrant against Carter Page? Did he know about the FISA on Page prior to April 2017? Did he meet with Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page or any of the collusion conspirators in 2016 or 2017? Was he aware of or involved in McCord’s dealings with the White House regarding Michael Flynn?
Why did he send letters to Democrat Adam Schiff and not Republican Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee? Did Atkinson have any communications with Schiff prior to sending his September 7 letter? Why was the form documenting an “urgent concern” apparently edited around the time of the latest complaint?
Democrats are poised to begin the impeachment process based on this latest controversy. It’s time for Republicans to uncover as much information as possible, including whether this scandal is an extension of the collusion hoax and whether it involves some of the very same players.