September 20, 2019
 
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Admin Blocks Whistleblower Complaint   09/20 06:29

   The acting director of national intelligence has agreed to testify next week 
to the House intelligence committee after balking at the panel's demand to turn 
over a secret whistleblower complaint.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Trump administration plunged into an extraordinary 
showdown with Congress over access to a whistleblower's complaint about 
reported incidents including a private conversation between President Donald 
Trump and a foreign leader. The blocked complaint is "serious" and "urgent," 
the government's intelligence watchdog said.

   The administration is keeping Congress from even learning what exactly the 
whistleblower is alleging, but the intelligence community's inspector general 
said the matter involves the "most significant" responsibilities of 
intelligence leadership. A lawmaker said the complaint was "based on a series 
of events."

   The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday that at least 
part of the complaint involves Ukraine. The newspapers cited anonymous sources 
familiar with the matter. The Associated Press has not confirmed the reports.

   The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee 
behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to 
reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

   The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump's allies 
are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, if 
his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working 
with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress.

   Trump, though giving no details about any incident, denied Thursday that he 
would ever "say something inappropriate" on such a call.

   Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence 
Committee, said he was prepared to go to court to try to force the Trump 
administration to open up about the complaint.

   "The inspector general has said this cannot wait," said Schiff, describing 
the administration's blockade as an unprecedented departure from law. "There's 
an urgency here that I think the courts will recognize."

   Schiff said he, too, could not confirm whether newspaper reports were 
accurate because the administration was claiming executive privilege in 
withholding the complaint. But letters from the inspector general to the 
committee released Thursday said it was an "urgent" matter of "serious or 
flagrant abuse" that must be shared with lawmakers.

   The letters also made it clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice 
Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further 
departure from standard procedure. It's unclear whether the White House was 
also involved, Schiff said.

   Because the administration is claiming the information is privileged, Schiff 
said he believes the whistleblower's complaint "likely involves the president 
or people around him."

   Trump dismissed it all.

   "Another Fake News story out there - It never ends!" Trump tweeted. 
"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 asked, "Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something 
inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily 
populated' call."

   House Democrats are fighting the administration separately for access to 
witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. Democrats are also looking into 
whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the 
government to aid the president's reelection effort by investigating the 
activities of potential rival Joe Biden's son Hunter, who worked for a 
Ukrainian gas company.

   During an interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked 
Ukraine to look into Biden. Giuliani initially said, "No, actually I didn't," 
but seconds later he said, "Of course I did."

   Later, Giuliani tweeted, "A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known 
corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his 
job."

   Among the materials Democrats have sought in that investigation is the 
transcript of a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr 
Zelenskiy on July 25.

   This new situation, stemming from the whistleblower's Aug. 12 complaint, has 
led to their public concerns that government intelligence agencies and the 
recently named acting director might be under pressure to withhold information 
from Congress.

   Trump tapped Maguire, a former Navy official, as acting intelligence 
director in August, after the departure of Director Dan Coats, a former 
Republican senator who often clashed with the president, and the retirement of 
Sue Gordon, a career professional in the No. 2 position.

   Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but 
he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly 
Sept. 26. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are 
expected next week at the Senate intelligence committee.

   Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released Thursday that he and Maguire 
had hit an "impasse" over the acting director's decision not to share the 
complaint with Congress.

   While Atkinson wrote that he believed Maguire's position was in "good faith" 
it did not appear to be consistent with past practice. Atkinson said he was 
told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did 
not actually meet the definition of an "urgent concern." And he said the 
Justice Department said it did not fall under the director's jurisdiction 
because it did not involve an intelligence professional.

   Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint 
"not only falls under DNI's jurisdiction," Atkinson wrote, "but relates to one 
of the most significant and important of DNI's responsibilities to the American 
people."

   The inspector general went on to say he requested authorization to at the 
very least disclose the "general subject matter" to the committee but had not 
been allowed to do so. He said the information was "being kept" from Congress. 
These decisions, the inspector general said, are affecting his execution of his 
duties and responsibilities.

   Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the panel, said Atkinson said that 
the complaint was "based on a series of events."

   In calling the inspector general to testify, Schiff said Atkinson determined 
the whistleblower complaint was "credible and urgent" and should be 
"transmitted to Congress."

   The inspector general's testimony was described by three people with 
knowledge of the proceedings. They were not authorized to discuss the meeting 
by name and were granted anonymity.

   Several lawmakers suggested the failure to disclose the complaint's contents 
amounted to a failure to protect the whistleblower, another violation. However, 
the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 
Jason Klitenic, wrote in a letter Tuesday to the committee that the agency was 
indeed protecting the whistleblower.

   Andrew Bakaj, a former intelligence officer and an attorney specializing in 
whistleblower reprisal investigations, confirmed that he was representing the 
whistleblower but declined further comment.

   Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said on MSNBC that the acting director "broke the 
law when he decided to basically intercept the inspector general's report to 
Congress."

   That's "never been done before in the history of inspector general reports 
to the Congress," Himes said. "And the American people should be worried about 
that."

   Himes said, "We don't know exactly what is in the substance of this 
complaint. It could be nothing. It could be something very, very serious."


(KR)

 
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