The Trump Administration has plunged into an extraordinary showdown with Congress over access to a whistleblower's complaint about reported incidents including a private conversation between US President Donald Trump and a foreign leader. The blocked complaint is both "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 yesterday that at least part of the complaint involves Ukraine. The newspapers cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
The Post, quoting two former US officials, reported that the complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a "promise" that Trump made, which was so alarming that the US intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community.
Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May. That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian Government into helping Trump's reelection campaign. Lawmakers have demanded a full transcript and a list of participants on the call.
The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors yesterday but declined to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.
The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump's allies are protecting him 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, yesterday denied that he would ever "say something inappropriate" on such a call.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, 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 recognise." 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 said it was an "urgent" matter of "serious or flagrant abuse" that must be shared with lawmakers.
The letters also made it clear that Trump's new acting director of national intelligence, Maguire, consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure.
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".