President Trump has discussed dismissing the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, because Mr. Atkinson reported a whistle-blower’s complaint about Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine to Congress after concluding it was credible, according to four people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Trump first expressed his dismay about Mr. Atkinson around the time the whistle-blower’s complaint became public in September. In recent weeks, he has continued to raise with aides the possibility of firing him, one of the people said.
The president has said he does not understand why Mr. Atkinson shared the complaint, which outlined how Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals at the same time he was withholding military aid from the country. He has said he believes Mr. Atkinson, whom he appointed in 2017, has been disloyal, one of the people said.
Mr. Trump’s private complaints about Mr. Atkinson have come as he has publicly questioned his integrity and accused him of working with the Democrats to sabotage his presidency.
It is unclear how far Mr. Trump’s discussions about removing Mr. Atkinson have progressed. Two people familiar with what took place said they thought that Mr. Trump was just venting, and insisted that Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal was never under serious consideration.
But the mixture of public attacks and private discussions about a possible dismissal is a familiar way Mr. Trump has undermined investigators who have examined his conduct or that of people close to him. The president publicly criticized James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, and Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, before he dismissed them for perceived disloyalty.
Mr. Trump believes he has the power to fire anyone in the executive branch, though aides say they have learned to ignore many of his private rants, unless the president brings up the subject repeatedly and appears on the precipice of making a move they feel could be damaging.
This is not the first time, of course:
People close to the president believe the political consequences of firing Mr. Atkinson could be devastating, especially when Mr. Trump needs all the Republican support he can get for a potential impeachment trial in the Senate.
Mr. Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire Mr. Comey, who was leading an investigation into ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia, set off a firestorm that led to the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
The following month, after it became public that Mr. Mueller was investigating Mr. Trump for obstructing justice, Mr. Trump told the White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, to have Mr. Mueller removed. That incident later became a central episode in Mr. Mueller’s report, and House Democrats are still considering using that incident in an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice.