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He was told to be independent. Trump fired him for it

Del Quentin Wilber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The next few weeks were among the toughest of Atkinson's career. He labored 12- to 15-hour days at the office, unsuccessfully trying to prod Maguire and his team to disclose the complaint to Congress. He felt stressed and isolated. He couldn't even tell his wife what he was working on.

He was late for his son's 19th birthday party and AWOL as his wife organized the young man's departure for college.

"It was frustrating because Michael was hard-pressed to get home before 10 or 11 at night," said his wife, Kate Atkinson, the managing partner at a major law firm. "And he couldn't tell us what was up."

Atkinson was driving his son to college in New York when he got a call from a deputy who told him the White House might allow his investigators to review detailed notes of the call between Trump and Zelenskiy. He switched to the passenger seat and for 20 minutes discussed the potential offer and its ramifications. The overture made Atkinson nervous.

Surely, he thought, the White House would not provide him with such records if they were incriminating. He wondered if he had been wrong about the complaint. Had he made a massive error?

After dropping his son off, he skipped a vacation with friends and raced back to Washington, where he learned the White House was not going to allow his team to review the notes, after all. The administration was citing an opinion from the Justice Department that Trump was not considered a member of the intelligence committee. Thus, the department argued, the allegations did not meet the legal definition of an "urgent concern," meaning they did not have to be disclosed to Congress.

 

Officials in Maguire's office told Atkinson they intended to follow the guidance. Atkinson, ironically, felt relieved.

"When they adopted the legal argument and dropped the factual argument," he said, "I knew the whistleblower was probably very accurate."

But how could he get around the Justice Department? After several weeks of back and forth, Atkinson told Maguire's lawyers he would notify Congress himself.

They said they wouldn't try to stop him but forbade him from describing the allegations.

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