Dems, GOP want whistleblower complaint sent to Congress
WASHINGTON — A standoff heated up between Congress and the Trump administration Thursday after the director of national intelligence refused to turn over an urgent whistleblower complaint that reportedly concerns President Donald Trump making a promise to a foreign leader.
Trump, without specifics, denied saying anything inappropriate on an alleged call.
The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, said he could not confirm whether The Washington Post report on the complaint was accurate because the administration was claiming privilege in withholding the document, even though the intelligence community's inspector general said it was an "urgent" matter of "serious or flagrant abuse" that must be shared with lawmakers.
"There has been bipartisan support to make sure we are following the statute, which is if there is a whistleblower complaint that should be referred to Congress, if the IG finds it credible," said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who participated in the closed-door committee meeting on the complaint Thursday. "So I think we should make sure we are following the letter of the law and Congress's intent, which is to notify Congress."
The intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, met with the committee but declined to tell the panel the substance of the complaint.
"The details of the complaint were not shared with Congress and there was no further comment on what those details were, who the complaintant was or who the compliant was against," Stefanik said.
Later Thursday afternoon, the New York Times reported that the complaint involved a series of actions, not just one communication with a foreign leader.
Schiff said he believes the whistleblower's complaint "likely involves the president or people around him."
The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in a further departure from standard procedure, consulted with the Justice Department and perhaps the White House, in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress, Schiff said. The director is claiming privileged information, a fact that points back at Trump, retains rights enabling him to prevent disclosure of confidential advice and communications.
"There is an effort to prevent this information from getting to Congress," Schiff said, describing it as an unprecedented departure from law.
"Number one, what's really ugly about this is it's a violation of letter of law," said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn. "And number two, you now have a whistleblower out there who is not clearly entitled to legal protection. It sends a chilling message to the intelligence community."
The Washington Post reported the complaint involves an intelligence official's allegation that Trump made the promise to an unidentified foreign leader in a telephone call. The Post cited two anonymous former U.S. officials.
The complaint was filed Aug. 12, when Trump was vacationing at his golf resort in New Jersey.
The president had talked with several foreign leaders in the previous weeks, including Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 31, the Post reported.
On Twitter, Trump dismissed the whistleblower allegation as "Another Fake News story out there - It never ends!"
He also wrote: "Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call."
In a letter Tuesday, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, said the agency is protecting the whistleblower and argued the allegation does not meet the definition of "urgent concern." He said the complaint "concerned conduct from someone outside the intelligence community and did not relate to 'intelligence activity' under the DNI's supervision."
But the situation made some lawmakers worry that the intelligence community might be under pressure from the administration to withhold information from Congress.
Maguire, the acting national intelligence director, has been subpoenaed by the panel and is expected to testify publicly about the whistleblower complaint next Thursday. Atkinson is expected to be there next week, too.
"There's a lot more we have to learn," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.
Atkinson, the government's intelligence watchdog, mostly discussed process with the committee Thursday.