A smouldering Washington intelligence mystery exploded late Wednesday into a full-on confrontation between House Democrats and the White House over communications between President Donald Trump and an unidentified foreign leader.
A showdown over a whistle-blower’s “credible and urgent” complaint was revealed — first by The Washington Post and later confirmed by CNN — to concern the President himself, raising new questions about the motivation of the acting director of national intelligence’s refusal to reveal details of the case to Congress.
The revelations are certain to unleash a new firestorm in the nation’s capital over Trump’s perplexing foreign policy dealings and the administration’s across-the-board efforts to frustrate Congress’ constitutionally authorized role of oversight of the executive branch.
But they will also open debate about the extent of the President’s powers, which give him expansive latitude in national security.
The whistle-blower’s claims are also certain to bolster the belief among Trump and his supporters that nefarious forces are operating within America’s intelligence establishment to undermine him — a refrain conservatives have used in the wake of the Russian election interference operation. And they will likely further damage the President’s trust in America’s spy agencies.
The Post reported that an official in the American intelligence community was so bothered by a “promise” Trump had made while communicating with a foreign leader that the official filed a formal whistle-blower complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community, according to two former US officials familiar with the matter. CNN has not confirmed the detail about the “promise.”
It is unclear to whom Trump was speaking at the time.
The complaint was filed on August 12. White House records show Trump had spoken to or interacted with five foreign leaders in the previous five weeks, the Post reported: Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Emir of Qatar.
Trump’s private, in-person meetings with Putin and Kim especially have intrigued observers.
The Post’s report, and CNN’s subsequent confirmation, shed light on an intrigue that puzzled Washington for the last few days.
The drama centers on the refusal of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to hand over the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress. The stalling had already prompted speculation that Trump or senior aides could be involved .
After a standoff with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Maguire agreed Wednesday to testify next week, in a public hearing about the affair. There is no indication that he will hand over the report — especially in an open hearing.
Schiff had sent rumors into overdrive on Sunday when he said Maguire had cited a “higher authority” in refusing to hand over the complaint and referred to “privileged communications.”
“I think it’s fair to assume this involves either the President or people around him or both,” the California Democrat said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”