September 21, 2019
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump defended himself Friday against a whistleblower’s complaint including a reported private conversation he had with a foreign leader. The complaint, which the administration has refused to let Congress see, is “serious” and “urgent,” the government’s intelligence watchdog said. But Trump said he’s done nothing wrong. Some of the whistleblower’s allegations appear to center on Ukraine, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times. The newspapers cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
In a tweet Friday, Trump did not reference Ukraine or any other country, but said “there was nothing said wrong.” He tweeted about “the perfectly fine and respectful conversation.” The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s allies are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress.
It also plunged the Trump administration into an extraordinary showdown with Congress over access to the whistleblower’s complaint as lawmakers press their oversight of the executive branch. 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 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. 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 on Thursday dismissed it all, noting that others would be aware of the call. “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.” Giuliani told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions. “I did what I did on my own,” Giuliani said. “I told him about it afterward.