Intel watchdog feared Trump-Ukraine call was ‘security’ risk
President Donald Trump could have been exposed to “serious national security and counterintelligence risks” if he pressured the leader of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, in a call this summer, the intelligence community’s inspector general said.
The explosive charge is among the reasoning cited in Inspector General of the Intelligence Committee Michael Atkinson’s report which said the complaint by a whistleblower, which detailed the July 25 call and other moves by the Trump administration regarding Ukraine, amounts to an “urgent concern” and “appears credible” — two statutory requirements considered as whistleblower allegations progress through review.
“In the ICIG’s judgment, alleged conduct by a senior US public official to seek foreign assistance to interfere in or influence a Federal election… would also potentially expose such a US public official (or others acting in concert with the US public official) to serious national security and counterintelligence risks with respect to foreign intelligence services aware of such alleged conduct,” Atkinson wrote.
Despite the inspector general’s transmitting of the whistleblower’s complaint to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire along with his finding of “urgent concern” in late August, the complaint was not sent to Congress until this week.
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday, Maguire said that he consulted with the White House counsel’s office and later the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel after receiving the complaint for guidance on how to handle it.
In its guidance, which Maguire has said was “binding,” the Justice Department disputed Atkinson’s determination that the complaint constituted an “urgent concern,” therefore releasing the DNI from an obligation to send it to Congress.
On Thursday, Maguire defended his decisions, calling the situation “unprecedented.” He said that “executive privilege” concerns regarding the President’s phone call also prevented his release of the complaint to Congress.
“It was not stonewalling,” Maguire told lawmakers. “I have to comply with the way the law is, not the way some people would like it to be. And if I could have done otherwise, it would have been much more convenient for me.”
Atkinson’s letter substantiating the whistleblower’s “urgent concern” and credibility, dated August 26, was released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff Thursday morning.
In his argument, Atkinson also cites Trump’s own words from a recent executive order about the “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” posed by foreign interference in US elections.
Atkinson said he also established the whistleblower’s credibility, revealing new details about his or her connection to the information in the allegations, while also acknowledging the whistleblower’s potential political bias.
Though much of the whistleblower’s complaint is based on information attributed to unnamed US officials as well as news reports, Atkinson wrote in his analysis that the whistleblower has “official and authorized access to the information and sources referenced” in the complaint.
The whistleblower also has “subject matter expertise related to much of the material information” in the complaint, Atkinson wrote.
Atkinson is aware of the whistleblower’s identity, he wrote.
In its two-week preliminary review of the allegations, the ICIG office “identified some indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate,” though Atkinson adds that that evidence “did not change my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears credible’, particularly given the other information the ICIG obtained during its preliminary review.”