In April, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King announced the availability of the money in a joint statement and cited Russia's "relentless" attempts to influence the 2016 elections. Credit: Andrew Harnik | The Associated Press

Both of Maine’s senators on Saturday spoke out against the abrupt firing of an independent watchdog for the country’s intelligence agencies who played an important role in the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Late Friday, Trump informed the House and Senate intelligence committees that he had decided to fire Michael Atkinson, the inspector general who handled an anonymous whistleblower complaint that sparked the president’s eventual impeachment, according to the Associated Press.

In a letter announcing the decision, Trump said that it is “vital” that he has confidence in the people appointed to be inspectors general, and “that is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general,” the AP reported.

[Trump fires watchdog who handled Ukraine complaint]

On Saturday, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, released statements opposing the decision, although King’s was more strongly worded. Both sit on the senate’s intelligence committee.

Collins said that Trump had followed the law in giving Congress 30 days notice before removing an inspector general, but disagreed with his decision.

“I did not find his rationale for removing Inspector General Atkinson to be persuasive,” Collins said. “While I recognize that the president has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted.”

Inspectors general are “vital partners in Congress’ effort to identify inefficient or ineffective government programs and to root out fraud and other wrongdoing,” Collins said.

King warned that removing Atkinson would deprive Congress of a valuable perspective and could dissuade other members of the intelligence community from coming forward with their concerns. It’s Trump’s prerogative to hire and remove staff such as Atkinson, King said, but he pointed to the threats now facing the country — including the coronavirus pandemic — and questioned “whether and how much of this news is more political than policy-oriented.”

“When speaking the truth leads to potential retribution, we know less and are at increased risk,” King said. “The world we live in is darker and more dangerous. President Trump is taking these actions to protect himself – but in the process, he risks making the entire country less safe.”