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U.S.Watchdog Vows 'Aggressive' Oversight After Trump Fires Intelligence Official

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Michael Atkinson arrives to testify at a House Intelligence Committee closed-door hearing on the whistle-blower complaint in Washington, D.C., on October 4.

The top U.S. federal watchdog has vowed to continue conducting what he called "aggressive" independent oversight of government agencies, a day after President Donald Trump fired the inspector-general of the U.S. intelligence community.

The vow came on April 4 from Michael Horowitz, chair of an independent agency within the executive branch called the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).

Trump informed the Senate Intelligence Committee late on April 3 that he had fired Michael Atkinson -- the intelligence official who handled the whistle-blower complaint involving aid to Ukraine that triggered Trump's impeachment.

Atkinson was the first to inform Congress about an anonymous whistle-blower complaint in 2019 that described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

Horowitz, who has also been the inspector-general of the U.S. Department of Justice since 2012, said on April 4 that Atkinson was known for his "integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight."

He said the inspector-general community in the United States "will continue to conduct aggressive, independent oversight of the agencies" it oversees.

He said that includes the work of CIGIE's Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which was recently tasked with broad surveillance of the government's response to the coronavirus -- including a $2.3 trillion financial package aimed at mitigating its economic impact.

Horowitz said the committee would work "on behalf of U.S. taxpayers, families, businesses, patients, and health-care providers to ensure that more than $2 trillion in emergency federal spending is being used consistently with the law's mandate."

Democrats have expressed concerns about how the fiscal package will be disbursed by the U.S. Treasury, headed by Steven Mnuchin.

"We're not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends," said Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat-Massachusetts).

The whistle-blower complaint handled by Atkinson, which was eventually released publicly, revealed that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call to investigate the Bidens.

The complaint prompted a House investigation that ultimately resulted in Trump's impeachment. The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump in February.

Trump said in the letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee that it was "vital" that he has confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors-general, and "that is no longer the case with regard to this inspector-general."

He did not elaborate, except to say that "it is extremely important that we promote the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of federal programs and activities," and that an inspector-general is critical to those goals.

The letter was addressed to Representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California), the head of the House Intelligence Committee, and Devin Nunes (Republican-California), the top Republican on the committee.

Schiff called the firing a "blatant attempt to gut the independence of the Intelligence Community and retaliate against those who dare to expose presidential wrongdoing."

"It puts our country and national security at even greater risk," he said on Twitter.

Trump wrote that he planned to nominate an individual "who has my full confidence" to replace Atkinson at a later date.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa
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