Whistleblower Issue Blows Up Bigly [With Updates]

Ken AshfordBreaking News, L'Affaire Russe, L'Affaire Ukraine, Political Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I’ve been pointing to it the last couple days. Last night, we learned a little about what the whistleblower complaint discussed.

The whistleblower complaint filed on Aug. 12 by an official in the U.S. intelligence community involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post yesterday.

During the interaction, Trump made a “promise” to the foreign leader that the whistleblower found so troubling they decided to file the complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. In turn, Atkinson found the complaint worrisome enough that he marked the matter of “urgent concern” and submitted it to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Maguire replaced former DNI Dan Coats, who resigned in August.

By law, Maguire was supposed to send the complaint on to Congress, but after asking Justice Department officials for legal guidance, he refused, the Post reports. The House and Senate intelligence committees only learned of the complaint after Atkinson, not Maguire, notified them earlier this month, though he did not say what was in the complaint. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is trying to get intelligence officials to share the details with lawmakers, and Atkinson is scheduled to appear before Schiff’s committee for a private session on Thursday.

One former official told the Post the communication in question was a phone call. It’s not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking to or what he promised them. In the five weeks before the complaint was filed, White House records show that Trump spoke and interacted with at least five foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

My bet is on Putin. So is everybody else’s.

So let’s figure this out. It seems clear there are two overarching issues:

First. What did the president promise to Putin? Was there a quid pro quo? (If so, that could be a *new* “collusion”). If there was a quid pro quo, was it explicit or implicit? Did the promise given to Putin amount to “compromat” (information that could be used to compromise Trump)? Did Trump promise to do something in contravention of Congress (like slow-walk aid to Ukraine)?

My guess is that it has something to do with Ukraine, and our aid to it. Perhaps Trump promised that if he won the election, he would try to get rid of aid to the Ukraine. Or perhaps ease up on sanctions of Russia.

If he made that “promise” in connection with the next election, is there an implicit quid pro quo — like, “you help me win again, and I’ll do X for you”? Maybe.

I don’t think the issue is that the president in some way gave out classified information. Unfortunately, what is and isn’t classified is within the purview of the president, and he can share it with whoever he wants.

Second. To what extent was the president involved in the (Acting) DNI’s decision not to forward the whistleblower complaint to Congress? Did he order it? If so, this is rather blatant obstruction of justice (18 USC Sec 1512(c)(2))

The second issue seems more of a slam dunk if it can be shown that the president was involved in that decision. It reaks of cover-up.

One result of last night’s blowup is that dates for the (Acting) DNI to testify before the House have now been arranged: He will meet today in a closed session (that, in fact, is happening as I type this), and on September 26 in an open session.

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is rampant across social media. Some suggest Fiona Hill, former Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, as the whistleblower; her planned departure in August was announced June 18. Others suggest an as-yet unnamed low-level analyst.

The WaPo article says that the whistleblower “once worked on the staff of the White House security council, meaning it could be former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who resigned a month ago (August 15)…

…or even John Bolton (the recently ousted National Security Adviser) himself.

As for the “promise”, the most interesting speculation I’ve heard connects this to the disclosure of the Russian mole now living in the Washington, DC area. This seems like a strange thing to leak, as it potentially endangers the operative. But, the argument goes, it makes more sense if people in the intelligence community feared Trump was going to, say, deliver the agent to Putin. As CNN reported about a week ago, Trump apparently doesn’t like snitches. Even if they’re working for the United States.

Marcy Wheeler’s take:

Important points for consideration:

What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?

What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?

What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?

How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?

Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Promising to violate or ignore violation of bipartisan sanctions against Russia would be unlawful, but would this be an “urgent concern”?

Was there instead an unlawful act with regard to the doxxing of the exfiltrated Russian asset?

Or was there a promise related to surveillance of North Korea?

Did the tensions between the U.S. and Iran spawn an unlawful promise?

There are probably dozens more scenarios that might fit. They may be related to items we didn’t add to the crowdsourced timeline, like these items directly related to North Korea:

28-FEB-2019 — Trump cut short the two-day summit with North Korea for no clear reason.
11-JUN-2019 — Trump received a “beautiful letter” from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
09-AUG-2019 — Trump received another “very beautiful letter” from Kim.
This one related to Iran:
03-SEP-2019 — New sanctions were placed on Iran after Trump administration claimed it was developing ballistic missile technology using its communications satellite program as cover.
And these related to Russia:
26-JUN-2019 — Trump told reporters that his anticipated discussion with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan was “none of your business.”
31-JUL-2019 — Trump and Putin talked over the phone about Siberian wildfires and trade.
29-AUG-2019 — Trump’s trip to Poland canceled, ostensibly to monitor Hurricane Dorian though he ended up playing golf instead at his N. Virginia course. Was he avoiding conflict over increased Russian troop presence at the administrative border between Russian-occupied South Ossetia and Georgia? (Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership but is not yet a member state.)

All good points. We should remember that on July 31,when Trump held a phone call with Putin, the call was first reported by the Russians. The White House didn’t confirm it until late that evening, saying Trump “expressed concern over the vast wildfires afflicting Siberia” and, “The leaders also discussed trade between the two countries.” The Russians, in a much more substantial readout, claimed Trump and Putin also spoke about restoring full relations one day.

Other takes…

Here’s an opposing viewpoint. Goldsmith is a Harvard Law Professor.

Aaaaand now we (finally) have the President weighing in:

I for one believe that the President is that dumb. Trump used to walk into the TV Truck and say “Get a close up on her tits” would talk about “grab ’em by the pussy” while wearing a microphone. He allowed the Russians into the Oval Office without anyone else being there. This is Trump.

Bloomburg New Reporter for the White House:

Just the other day, he almost blabbed about security measures at the border, but he was stopped.

Trump: “They’re wired so that we will know if somebody’s trying to break through.”

He then offered the floor to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who quickly answered: “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”

UPDATE: This House Intelligence Committee session with the Inspector General is taking a while.

Aaaand, it looks like the DOJ got involved in the decision not to turn over the complaint to the House Intel Committee…

Why? The NY Times just broke that the IG is refusing to tell what the complaint is about.

During a private session on Capitol Hill, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, told lawmakers he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation. 


Watching Schiff now live…

Schiff is saying that DOJ has issued an opinion that the complaint cannot be handed over. The DOJ is asserting a “privilege”, but it is not clear what that privilege. Schiff says there is no privilege involved that the White House has that allows the complaint to be snuffed out.

Schiff says that the IG is in the same position as the whistleblower in that they are both trying to follow the law.

Schiff asks rhetorically “Who is in the position to mandate that the DNI go outside his area to get a legal opinion on whether or not to pass on the complaint to Congress?” (The answer is obviously the President or the President’s people).

Schiff says that the IG says it is “urgent” and that we cannot let this drag on for weeks and months. Says Acting DNI has the sole power to turn over the complaint and hopes he changes his mind.

Just released — letter from 9/9

Looks like the Senate Intel Committee has finally woken up as well….

Aaand is THIS related?

MORE UPDATE: More letters between Schiff and the ICIG, and Schiff and DNI Macguire:

MAJOR UPDATE: New York times just broke this —

A potentially explosive complaint by a whistle-blower in the intelligence community said to involve President Trump was related to a series of actions that goes beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader, according to interviews on Thursday.

The complaint was related to multiple acts, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for American spy agencies, told lawmakers during a private briefing, two officials familiar with it said. But he declined to discuss specifics, including whether the complaint involved the president, according to committee members.

This is getting bigger and bigger by the hour.