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Trump admin escalates fight over intel whistleblower complaint

Team Trump is making it awfully tough to give them the benefit of the doubt in the controversy over a complaint from an intelligence community whistleblower.

It's possible that the whistleblower complaint from within the U.S. intelligence community is relatively benign. Maybe it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Maybe the underlying concern is technical and inconsequential in nature.

But given the Trump administration's recent conduct, it's awfully tough to give the relevant officials the benefit of the doubt. The New York Times reported overnight:

The acting director of national intelligence will not testify before Congress this week or immediately hand over a whistle-blower complaint to lawmakers, escalating a standoff between Capitol Hill and leaders of the intelligence agencies.

Following up on Rachel's report from last night and our earlier coverage, let's recap where things stand. Someone within the U.S. intelligence community sent a complaint to the intelligence community's inspector general, and while we don't know about the nature of the complaint, the IG reviewed it and found it credible.

Just as importantly, the matter was deemed "urgent."

Under our system, this is supposed to set a series of dominoes in motion, including an alert to the director of National Intelligence. That, by all accounts, is what occurred. (There is currently no Senate-confirmed DNI, but Joseph Maguire is there in an acting capacity.)

At that point, by law, the DNI has seven days to alert the congressional Intelligence committees. And that's the step the Trump administration is refusing to take.

Instead, Maguire told House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that the complaint refers to someone outside the intelligence community and it involves matters that are privileged. This, evidently, was supposed to justify the DNI's legally dubious secrecy.

Not surprisingly, this has led to some speculation about whether the complaint is about Donald Trump – which also raises the specter of the acting DNI, appointed by the president, ignoring his legal obligations, and withholding a credible whistleblower complaint, possibly to protect Trump from yet another scandal.

Which, in itself, would be pretty scandalous.

Schiff issued a subpoena, instructing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to turn over the unredacted whistleblower complaint to the House Intelligence Committee by yesterday. Maguire refused. Schiff added that if the DNI chose not to comply with the subpoena, Maguire would be compelled to appear before the committee to explain himself at a hearing tomorrow.

The DNI's current position is that he won't show up for that, either.

All of this comes on the heels of Schiff telling CBS's Face the Nation over the weekend that Maguire had effectively told him that he is "answering to a higher authority." And since the DNI reports directly to the president, it raises the specter of Trump personally directing the acting director of National Intelligence to ignore his statutory disclosure requirements.

As we discussed yesterday, there's a lot about this story that we don't yet know, and it's possible that it's more benign than it may seem, but when the Trump administration ignores legal requirements and hides potentially important information from Congress, it's hardly unreasonable to wonder why.