The complaint by an Intelligence Community whistleblower at the center of a controversy on whether President Donald Trump inappropriately pressured Ukraine’s leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden has been released.
It’s Thursday morning disclosure, with some redactions, sets the stage for a rare open hearing in which members of the House Intelligence Committee will ask questions of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the official who under guidance from the Justice Department and White House blocked the complaint’s release up until now.
The complaint, submitted by an Intelligence Community official on Aug. 12 to the Intelligence Community inspector general, focuses in part on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Notes on that phone call were released Wednesday morning and showed Trump asked for Ukraine’s help in investigating whether there was any Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election and a matter related to Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump urged Zelenksy to speak with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, although the Justice Department denies Barr ever spoke to Trump about it.
For weeks Democrats in Congress have clashed with the Trump administration to gain access to the complaint, and they argued a whistleblower statute required Maguire to give the intelligence committees access to the complaint within seven days. But the Office of the National Director of National Intelligence office resisted, claiming Maguire was not bound by the statute because the subject of the complaint lay outside of his jurisdiction.
Although Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined the complaint to be “urgent” and “credible,” a memo released by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said he detected indications of “an arguable political bias” that favored a “rival political candidate.” The whistleblower also did not have direct knowledge of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, but rather heard about it second-hand from unidentified White House officials who were concerned the president “abused his authority or acted unlawfully in connection with foreign diplomacy,” the document said.
The Justice Department received a criminal referral about a potential campaign finance violation in relation to Trump’s phone conversation with Zelensky, but declined to take action after a review.
Bipartisan calls for the release of both the transcript and complaint grew louder as reports showed Trump urged Zelensky to work with Giuliani to investigate Hunter Biden, who did business in Ukraine while his father was vice president. There was particular concern about whether Trump leveraged $250 million in military aid, which his administration had put on hold until earlier this month, to put pressure on Zelensky.
This week Trump admitted that he talked to Zelensky about Biden, who is now a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, but claimed there was no “quid pro quo.” Yet it was this admission from Trump that appeared to push a hesitant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the edge. The California Democrat announced on Tuesday that she supports a formal impeachment inquiry.
The whistleblower complaint was delivered to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees Wednesday afternoon. Members viewed it in a secure room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, on Capitol Hill, after which they reacted to reporters about what they saw without getting into specifics.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he found the whistleblower’s allegations to be “deeply disturbing.” California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN that the complaint is “a five-alarm concern” to him. He also described the complaint as being laid out in a “professional way” that provides “further evidence to seek other witnesses to find and documents.”
Republicans were more muted in their response, with some noting it is too soon to talk about impeachment. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska urged all-around caution against quickly jumping to any conclusions, including to members of his own party by saying, “Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons to say there’s nothing there when there’s obviously lots that’s very troubling there.”
As lawmakers got a chance to view the complaint, Trump announced on Twitter that he told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy he “fully” supports transparency with the “so-called whistleblower information,” and insisted on the same degree of transparency for all information related to the Biden family. Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, revealed the complaint was declassified late in the evening after both the Senate and the House passed resolutions calling for the whistleblower for its release.
Maguire is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in an open session beginning at 9 a.m. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also expected to interview Maguire in a closed session.
Additionally, the whistleblower has tentatively reached an agreement to testify to lawmakers Thursday afternoon, according to letters between the whistleblower’s attorneys and House Intelligence Chairman Schiff.