Trump Nominates Justice Dept. Attorney to Be Intel Community Watchdog

Atkinson could face outstanding whistleblower retaliation claims against the nominee to be inspector general of the CIA. Atkinson could face outstanding whistleblower retaliation claims against the nominee to be inspector general of the CIA.

President Trump on Thursday announced his selection of Maryland attorney Michael Atkinson to be the inspector general of the 17-agency intelligence community, which has been undergoing changes in its whistleblower protection program.

The position has been held on a part-time, acting basis by Wayne Stone since the departure in March of previous inspector general I. Charles McCullough III. It is among 13 inspector general slots currently without a permanent appointee.

Atkinson since 2016 has been acting deputy assistant attorney general and senior counsel to the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.  He was deputy chief of the department’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section until 2015 and then the Section’s acting chief. From 2006-2012, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Before that, he was a trial attorney in Justice’s Fraud Section and a partner at the Washington law firm of Winston and Strawn.

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Chuck McCullough, a partner at the law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC, praised Atkinson as an “excellent” nominee. “He has substantial criminal enforcement experience and very recent national security experience at a senior level,” McCullough told Government Executive. “He will need thick-skin in that job, sitting on the razor wire fence between the Congress and the [executive branch].  His experience, combined with a good measure of patience and a steel spine, will serve him quite well as the next IC IG and as the next Chair of the IC IG Forum.”  

If he is confirmed, one of the issues Atkinson would face is the fate of the whistleblower protection outreach program run by longtime IG whistleblower ombudsman Dan Meyer, which is currently being down-scaled. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, recently assured employees that the whistleblower program remains important.

Atkinson could also face outstanding whistleblower retaliation claims against the nominee to be inspector general of the CIA, Christopher Sharpley, who has served as deputy IG since 2012 and is now acting in the No. 1 job. The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, which follows IGs, has blasted Sharpley’s nomination and called for an investigation into the alleged retaliation. Sharpley told senators at his confirmation hearing last month that he was unaware of any outstanding complaints.

When McCullough was in the intelligence community IG job, he weighed in on whether Hillary Clinton’s private email server contained classified information, an issue that Republicans in Congress recently revived.

POGO has joined with various senators in urging Trump to fill the 13 vacant IG slots, including the IG slot at the Interior Department, which has been empty since February 2009.

Separately on Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a report detailing problems with duplication of roles among the four inspectors general that oversee U.S. operations in Afghanistan. The IGs at the State and Defense departments, along with the IG at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction have overlapping responsibilities, auditors noted.

Though the lead is the Defense IG, all four should better document and clarify their roles and differing reporting requirements, GAO recommended. The IGs agreed.

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