Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson will return to Capitol Hill on Friday morning for a closed door appearance before the House Intelligence Committee. That appearance is likely to focus on the whistleblower complaint and how it was handled before Congress became aware of concerns about Donald Trump’s actions in Ukraine.
Without the notification from Atkinson, it’s safe to say there would be no impeachment inquiry underway. It was Atkinson who evaluated the intelligence whistleblower complaint, performed an internal investigation, and declared that it was both “urgent” and “credible.” But once that complaint was returned to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, it was then forwarded to the White House counsel and the Department of Justice—both of which came up with reasons that the complaint should be buried. It was only Atkinson’s note to the House Intelligence Committee on September 9 that made Congress aware of the report’s existence and importance. So the nation has reason to be thankful to Atkinson.
However, when Atkinson was brought before the committee earlier, it wasn’t a very satisfying appearance. With the whistleblower complaint still not handed over at that time, and under orders from Maguire about the limits of his statements, Atkinson wasn’t able to provide much information that the House wanted to know. Now, with both the “not-a-transcript” and whistleblower complaint in hand, and an impeachment inquiry formally convened, Atkinson should be able to speak more freely—especially concerning steps he may have taken to investigate the complaint before turning it over to Maguire.
Of critical importance: the definition of “urgent matter.” Atkinson determined that the complaint did constitute an urgent matter, that is, something that was not just a policy difference or ordinary internal dispute, but a serious breach of national interest. But Maguire, with a recommendation from the ever-Trump-helpful rule-makers at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, determined that the complaint was not “urgent.” And because it wasn’t urgent, it didn’t need to go to the House committee.
Atkinson apparently continued to argue that the complaint met the criteria of “urgent matter,” which does not limit itself only to things where everyone concerned is a member of the intelligence community. The details of that argument between Atkinson, Maguire, and the OLC are likely to be reviewed at length in the closed door hearing.
The brief investigation that Atkinson took to determine that the complaint was “credible” will also be a focus, particularly from Republicans who have thrown in with Trump in an effort to discredit the whistleblower. But questioning Atkinson is likely to put some serious holes in Republican claims that the whistleblower was somehow coordinating his actions with House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff.