The inspector general for the Intelligence Community on Thursday refused to provide details to Congress on a whistleblower’s ‘urgent’ claim about a secret promise President Trump reportedly made a foreign leader, lawmakers said.
The IG took the position, which Democrats cast as stonewalling, after consulting with White House and top Justice Department lawyers, it was reported Thursday.
Facing the roadblock, House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California threatened Thursday to sue the administration.
The standoff escalated by the hour Thursday, culminating in reports that the president’s allege actions that prompted the whistleblower to come forward involved multiple steps beyond a single country’s leader.
Schiff, a favorite Trump target, told reporters the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has made the ‘unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress,’ despite whistleblower laws requiring reporting to Congress of legitimate complaints.
‘The whole point of the whistleblower statute is not only to encourage those to report problems, abuses, violations of laws, but also to have a legal mechanism to do so and not to disclose classified information — because there’s no other remedy,’ Schiff said after lawmakers grilled the IG for the intelligence community in private.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) blasted the Director of National Intelligence’s decision not to share a whistleblower complaint reported to involve President Donald Trump despite statutes that mandate reporting to Congress
The decision to hold back the information from Congress came after the White House weighed in, CNN reported.
The White House Counsel and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel were both involved in the decision and vetted it with the Director of National Intelligence, according to the report.
It was not immediately clear if the White House lawyers told the DNI to assert a privilege and hold back the information. In other Democratic congressional investigations, White House and Justice Department lawyers have had administration officials assert an ‘absolute immunity’ from having to testify.
Schiff’s complaints came after the IG, Michael Atkinson, who he has previously said called the matter ‘urgent,’ declined to confirm to lawmakers public reports about the whistleblower’s complaint.
Pressed by lawmakers, he told them he could not confirm the whistleblower’s stunning complaint about the president.
The New York Times reported that Atkinson did allow that the complaint involved multiple acts going beyond a single pledge to a world leader.
The DNI’s office wrote lawmakers that the whistleblower complaint ‘involves confidential and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.’
Schiff blasted the push-back and threatened to sue. ‘There is no privilege that covers whether the White House is involved in trying to stifle a whistleblower complaint,’ he said.
His complaint followed closed meetings with the IG.
The IG wrote Schiff Sept. 9, explaining that he determined the complaint met the definition of an ‘urgent concern.’ But he also revealed a split with the DNI, who was not transmitting the information to Congress. The Acting DNI’s decision ‘does not appear to be consistent with past practice,’ he wrote.
Amid the lack of hard public information, speculation swirled around which leader the president might have made a promise to. Immediate speculation focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Trump spoke to by phone in a call where a brief White House readout said they discussed Siberian forest fires.
President Donald Trump denied Thursday denied making an ‘inappropriate’ comment to a foreign leader in a phone call that formed the basis of a reported whistleblower complaint – saying he would know better than to blurt out something inappropriate when others were on the line.
Trump said in tweets that only ‘dumb’ people believe the version of events that appeared in the Washington Post and chalked the complaint up to ‘harassment.’
‘Another Fake News story out there – It never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!’ he said.
‘Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially “heavily populated” call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!’
HOW THE TRUMP ‘WHISTLEBLOWER’ SCANDAL UNFOLDED
August 12: The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, receives a complaint from a ‘member of the intelligence community’ – someone working for one of 17 agencies which include the CIA and FBI, but not the White House or Congress. At the time, Donald Trump is on vacation at his New Jersey golf club
August 15: Dan Coats serves his final day as Director of National Intelligence, and is replaced by in an acting capacity by Joseph Maguire
August 26: Atkinson transmits the complaint to Maguire, which he has to do by law if he has found it ‘urgent’ and ‘credible’
September 2 (Labor Day): Legal deadline for Maguire to transmit the complaint to Congress expires
September 9: Inspector General writes to the House and Senate Intelligence committees telling them that he has received a complaint from a member of the intelligence community – but not what it is
September 10: House Intel Committee chair Adam Schiff writes to Maguire demanding information on the complaint
September 13: Maguire writes unclassified letter to the intel committees’ chairs and ranking members saying the complaint does not need to be disclosed because it did not ‘concern allegations of conduct by a member of the Intelligence Community or involve an intelligence activity under the DNI’s supervision.’ He also says that the DNI ‘lacks unilateral authority’ to allow the complaint to go to Congress
September 13, evening: Schiff issues a subpoena to Maguire demanding he testify to the House Intelligence Committee. He writes to Maguire and says that the DNI’s office has refused to rule out that it involves Trump, and that it is about an ‘area of active investigation by the committee.’
September 17: Maguire’s general counsel writes to Schiff and tells him two key things. The first is that the complaint ‘concerned conduct by someone outside the Intelligence Community and did not relate to any intelligence activity under the DNI’s supervision.’ That means the DNI is saying it isn’t a matter for the inspector general at all. The second is that it ‘involves confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the Executive Branch.’ And he says that the conclusion was reached after consultation with the Department of Justice, which is led by Attorney General Bill Barr.
September 17: Atkinson writes to Schiff saying he and Maguire are ‘at an impasse’ over the complaint. Calling the complaint ‘credible’ and ‘urgent,’ he says the IG’s view is that it does concern ‘an intelligence activity’ inside his remit – but that the DNI’s decision that it does not binds his hands. He says he has asked to be allowed to tell Congress ‘the basic subject matter’ of the complaint but been told not to. He says he fears that the whistleblower could be at risk of reprisals but not be protected
September 18, daytime: Schiff writes to Maguire, saying he will accept his testimony on September 26
September 18, 9p.m.: The Washington Post says the complaint involves ‘Trump’s communications with a foreign leader.’
September 19, 9a.m.: Atkinson meets the House Intel committee behind closed doors. He tells them that the complaint is definitely within his jurisdiction but not what it is
September 19, 10.47a.m.: Trump tweets a denial of wrongdoing, saying: ‘…is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!’
September 19, 3p.m.: The New York Times reports the complaint involves ‘a series of actions that goes beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader.’
President Donald Trump denied Thursday that he made an ‘inappropriate’ comment to a foreign leader in a phone call that formed the basis of a reported whistleblower complaint
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press during a visit to the US-Mexico border fence in Otay Mesa, California on Wednesday, hours before the whistleblower complaint revelation
Schiff told reporters the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has made the ‘unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress.’ The New York Times reported that Atkinson did allow that the complaint involved multiple acts going beyond a single pledge to a world leader
One of the paper’s sources said Trump made a ‘promise’ so egregious that it prompted a submission to the intelligence community’s inspector general.
Two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told the Washington Post about the episode.
One of the officials said the promise was made in a phone call. The name of the foreign leader and the subject of the discussion is unknown. Trump is known to have been in contact with more than a half dozen foreign leaders at the time of the August 12 complaint, though.
World Leaders Trump talked to around the time of whistleblower’s ‘promise’ claim
Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
French President Emmanuel Macron
Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sis of Egypt
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (exchanged letters)
Trump was vacationing at his Bedminister, N.J. golf club at the time. He spoke to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that morning and on two other occasions in the days prior.
The U.S. president also had calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the preceding weeks.
A White House readout of Trump’s call with Putin said they discussed the wildfires in Siberia and trade. But a Kremlin statement suggested they spoke about those topics and normalizing relations between the two nations.
Trump had a July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
Three House Democratic committee chairman, including Schiff, are probing alleged ‘attempts to manipulate the Ukrainian justice system to benefit the President’s re-election campaign and target a possible political opponent,’ and have sought records and transcripts of the call, as well as interactions between Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Ukrainian government.
Ned Price, a former CIA operative and National Security Council spokesman for Barack Obama, pointed to the discrepancy and guessed in a Tuesday evening tweet that the Putin call inspired the unknown whistleblower to come forward.
The president also met with the Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte just before the whistleblower complaint and exchanged letters with North Korean chairman Kim Jong un.
The scuffle has further implications beyond who Trump spoke to and what he said: the director of national intelligence’s office did not disclose the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Disclosure of such complaints is mandatory.
The whistleblower complaint was first submitted on August 12 to Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson, says House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
Last week, Schiff, a California Democrat, accused acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire of improperly withholding the information.
Federal law directs the DNI to transmit a whistleblower complaint to the Congressional intelligence committees within seven days if it is deemed ‘an urgent concern’ by the ICIG.
However, Schiff says Maguire failed to transmit the complaint to Congress by September 2 as the law requires.
On August 26, the ICIG deemed the complaint ‘not only credible, but urgent’ and forwarded it to DNI Maguire, yet it never made its way to Congress, Schiff says.
Rep. Adam Schiff (left) has accused acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire (right) of improperly withholding a whistleblower complaint from Congress
In a September 10 letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Schiff demanded the document, and implied that it was being concealed at the direction of the White House to avoid making administration officials look bad.
‘The Committee’s recent experience has heightened concern of improper White House efforts to influence your office and the Intelligence Community,’ Schiff wrote.
But Maguire refused, saying that the complaint involves confidential and potentially privileged communications, Schiff said.
Schiff said that Maguire further argued that the complaint was about someone who was not within the intelligence community, and that the whistleblower statute thus did not apply.
On September 13, Schiff issued a subpoena demanding a copy of the complaint, giving a September 17 deadline.
Maguire refused to respond to the subpoena, triggering Schiff to call a hearing on the matter for Thursday.
Schiff says the committee will ‘do everything necessary’ to get the complaint.
‘The ICIG determined that this complaint is both credible and urgent, and that it should be transmitted to Congress under the clear letter of the law. The Committee places the highest importance on the protection of whistleblowers and their complaints to Congress,’ Schiff said in a statement on Wednesday.