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.
It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed.
It is important to note that one of the sources who talked to the Post said that the communication in question came in the form of a phone call. Reporters have now tracked down the president’s interactions with foreign leaders around that time, but if it involved a phone conversation, here are the three that occurred in the two months before the complaint was filed.
June 18: Chinese President Xi Jinping
July 1: French President Emmanuel Macron
July 31: Russian President Vladimir Putin
Of course, a lot of attention is being paid to the call with Putin. That is heightened by the fact that it was initially not reported by the White House until after Russia announced it publicly.
Several hours later, the White House confirmed the call with a two-sentence statement saying the discussion was about the Siberian wildfires and trade.
There are some other events that happened around the time of the complaint that are significant:
July 28: Dan Coates, Director of National Intelligence, resigned.
August 2: U.S. pulled out of INF treaty with Russia.
August 6: John Huntsman, the Russian Ambassador, resigned.
August 8: Joseph Maguire named acting DNI.
That last event is significant because IG Atkinson (a Trump appointee) determined that the whistleblower complaint was a matter of “urgent concern,” triggering a legal standard that requires a report to Congress. But according to the Washington Post, Maguire first went to the Justice Department for legal guidance and was counseled to withhold the information. At that point, Atkinson informed congress that a complaint had been made, but Maguire continued his refusal to share the information with the House Intelligence Committee.
While it’s tempting to speculate based on the timeline of events, what we actually know is that someone in the intelligence community was so concerned about what transpired on that phone call that he or she filed a whistleblower complaint. The inspector general found the complaint to be not only credible, but of “urgent concern.” When the new acting DNI refused to inform Congress, he took the extraordinary step of telling them that the complaint existed. In other words, to use Joe Biden’s vernacular, this is a Big Fuckin’ Deal.
Beyond that, Attorney General William Barr is once again going out of his way to keep this information hidden, not just from the public, but from the House Intelligence Committee.
We’ve all been frustrated for years by what seems to be the administration’s successful attempt to obstruct justice and keep the American public from knowing what the president has done. In this case, we have intelligence officials who are so concerned about what happened that they are willing to risk their careers and possible jail time (for leaking classified information) to get this story out there. Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general of the United States, put it this way:
Trump and Barr vs. the intelligence community could be the ultimate show-down.