Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG), reportedly refused to answer a key question during testimony before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) on Friday.
Atkinson met with members of the committee in a closed meeting to to answer questions related to the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
When asked to explain why his office made changes to its whistleblower forms in September and backdated those changes to August when the anti-Trump “whistleblower” complaint was filed, Atkinson had no answer, Sean Davis reported at the Federalist on Monday. He also reportedly admitted to lawmakers that the anti-Trump complainant had improperly concealed his previous secret interactions with House Democratic staff prior to submitting the complaint.
The Federalist first reported late last month that the ICIG secretly changed its whistleblower forms and internal rules in September to do away with a requirement that complainants provide first-hand evidence to support their allegations of wrongdoing.
The IC watchdog disclosed in a press release last week that the rule change was in response to an anti-Trump complaint filed on August 12. The whistleblower complaint was based on second-hand information, much of which was shown to be false after President Trump ordered the declassification and release of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During Friday’s HPSCI committee oversight hearing, Atkinson admitted that the whistleblower forms and rules changes were made in September, even though the new forms and guidance state that they were changed in August, sources told the Federalist.
Despite having a full week to come up with explanations for his office’s decisions to secretly change its forms to eliminate the requirement for first-hand evidence and to backdate those changes to August, Atkinson refused to provide any explanation to lawmakers baffled by his behavior.
When pressed on the curious changes and attempts to obscure the timeline of his revisions, Atkinson refused to explain why the forms were backdated to August even though they were not made until September. The ICIG previously stated that it changed its forms and guidance “in response to recent press inquiries regarding” the anti-Trump complaint, of which Congress was not even notified until the second week of September. The new forms, which were not uploaded to the ICIG website until September 24, nonetheless stated that the revisions were made back in August.
Puzzled Republican lawmakers pressed the ICIG to explain how the forms could have been changed back in August if they were changed in response to press inquiries that were not made until mid-September?
“[T]he timing of the removal of the first-hand information requirement raises questions about potential connections to this whistleblower’s complaint,” three House Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to Atkinson on September 30. “This timing, along with numerous apparent leaks of classified information about the contents of this complaint, also raise questions about potential criminality in the handling of these matters.”
Several top Republican Senators voiced similar concerns about Atkinson’s behavior in a separate letter.
“Why did the IC IG initially require first-hand information in its May 2018 disclosure form?” the senators asked. “Why did the IC IG remove the requirement for first-hand information?”
As the Federalist notes, Atkinson refusal to answer these basic questions suggests that his handling of the anti-Trump complaint “might not be completely above board.”
Atkinson ignored legal guidance from both the director of national intelligence and the Department of Justice that the anti-Trump complaint was statutorily deficient and forwarded it to HPSCI even though it did not meet the legal definition of an “urgent concern” that is required to be given to Congress.
The embattled ICIG also admitted on Friday that the anti-Trump complainant lied on his whistleblower complaint form by concealing the complainant’s previous secret interactions with House Democratic staff prior to submitting the complaint. Atkinson never even bothered investigating potential coordination between the complainant, whom DOJ said showed evidence of partisan political bias, and House Democrats prior to the filing of the anti-Trump complaint.
During an appearance on Fox News last week, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) suggested that the reason the complaint form was changed was to accommodate the anti-Trump complainant, who offered no first-hand knowledge of the president’s alleged wrongdoing.
“This guideline, they changed it because of this whistleblower,” Nunes said. “[Atkinson] admits it in his own press release.”