House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has refused to release an eight-hour closed-door interview transcript with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, but a new lawsuit could help shed light on Atkinsons involvement in the origins of the ongoing House impeachment inquiry—and much more.
Atkinson received a complaint from a mysterious whistleblower in August that serves as the basis for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. His actions in bringing the complaint forward have raised questions, and conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch is suing for his unclassified communications.
Judicial Watch announced a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice on Tuesday, Dec. 3, seeking all of Atkinsons communications relating to President Donald Trump and emails and text messages with Schiff and his staff. The suit also seeks communications referencing Hillary Clinton, Anthony Weiner, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and impeachment.
“Mr. Atkinson has been a key Deep State official involved with questionable and abusive investigations of President Trump,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “As Adam Schiff keeps Atkinsons testimony on the impeachment attack on President Trump secret, Judicial Watch goes to court for transparency under the law.”
The whistleblower complaint alleged Trump abused his power to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate the current Democratic presidential frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden. It also alleged Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr were involved.
Those assertions are currently being debated in the House Judiciary Committee and could lead to an impeachment vote and subsequent Senate trial. Atkinson was at the center of events that led to congressional involvement.
At the outset, Atkinson changed internal IG policy requiring firsthand information to allow the complaint to qualify for the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. He then recommended the complaint be referred to Congress, though Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire disagreed, and the Justice Departments Office of Legal Counsel determined the complaint did not involve an “urgent concern.”
Under intense questioning from Schiff on Sept. 26, Maguire testified that the whistleblower complaint was essentially “hearsay” and uncorroborated. “This is second-hand information,” he said. Days later, it was revealed that the whistleblower had contacted Schiff and his staff before submitting the complaint to the IGs office, to which Atkinson has denied any foreknowledge.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, (R-Texas), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, spoke to the issue on Twitter, Nov. 30. When a reporter asked why Schiff has held back Atkinsons transcript despite releasing 15 other witness transcripts, Ratcliffe wrote: “Its because I asked IG Atkinson about his investigation into the contacts between Schiffs staff and the person who later became the whistleblower. The transcript is classified secret so Schiff can prevent you from seeing the answers to my questions.”
Prior to his appointment to oversee the intelligence community, Atkinson served as an Assistant Attorney General in the DOJs National Security Division from 2016 to 2018. Judicial Watch noted that during his two-year tenure, Atkinson was the senior legal counsel for both John Carlin and Mary McCord when they respectively headed the National Security Division.
Carlin was Robert Muellers chief of staff when Mueller was FBI Director, and McCord accompanied former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to confront White House Counsel Don McGahn about Gen. Michael Flynn in 2017. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Mueller special counsel investigation, though his attorney insists he was targeted to “take out” the president.
During the same period, the National Security Division partnered with the FBI Counterintelligence Unit on Operation Crossfire Hurricane, a covert investigation headed by disgraced former FBI Director James Comey that involved surveillance of the Trump campaign and presidential transition. In April 2017, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found “significant non-compliance with the NSAs minimization procedures involving queries of data,” which Judicial Watch called “spying.”
Judicial Watch also noted that FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page worked on Crossfire Hurricane, with Page being the liaison between FBI Counterintelligence and the DOJ National Security Division.
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