The basic elements of the story looked quite serious, despite its many gaps. On Friday night, we learned that someone within the U.S. intelligence community sent a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general, and though we knew effectively nothing about the nature of the complaint, the IG reviewed it and found it credible.
Just as importantly, the issue was considered a matter of “urgent concern.”
The matter was brought to the attention of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who, by law, was supposed to alert the congressional Intelligence committees. Instead, Maguire contacted the Justice Department, at which point Trump administration officials decided to withhold the information from lawmakers, legal disclosure requirements notwithstanding.
The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Core elements of the Post’s reporting have been corroborated by other news organizations, including NBC News.
At this point, let’s take stock of what we know and what we don’t.
If the latest reporting is accurate, we know that Donald Trump had a phone call with a foreign leader, during which he made a provocative “promise.” We know a U.S. intelligence official considered the presidential vow alarming and filed a complaint on Aug. 12. We know the intelligence community’s inspector general considered the whistleblower’s complaint credible and urgent.
We know the Trump-appointed acting DNI ignored legal requirements related to congressional disclosure. We know the intelligence community’s inspector general was uncomfortable with the DNI’s decision to ignore the law, and the IG, Michael Atkinson, made the relevant congressional committees aware of the existence of the complaint earlier this month.
We don’t know what, specifically, the president promised one of his foreign counterparts or to whom he was speaking. There is, however, a limited number of foreign leaders Trump spoke to around the relevant dates, and the Post’s article noted a July 31 phone conversation the Republican had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
We also don’t know the identity of the whistleblower, though there’s a limited number of intelligence community officials who’d know the relevant details of a presidential conversation with a foreign leader. Let’s also highlight the fact that this whistleblower took a big professional risk by taking his or her concerns to the inspector general’s office, but this person did the right thing anyway. It is, by all appearances, an unprecedented dynamic.
We also don’t know why the acting DNI ignored his legal disclosure requirements, or who (if anyone) may have directed him to do so.
Unfortunately for the White House, this new scandal is just getting started, as is the search for the truth. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) announced yesterday afternoon that his panel will today hear closed-door testimony from Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general. Acting DNI Joseph Maguire, meanwhile, is now scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee a week from today, and as things stand, that hearing will be open to the public.
Donald Trump really didn’t need another presidency-rocking scandal. He appears to be at the center of a new one anyway.