The formal whistleblower complaint by a U.S. official that Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to turn over to Congress was reportedly sparked by an alarming "promise" President Donald Trump made to a foreign leader in recent weeks.
The Washington Post, citing two anonymous former U.S. officials familiar with the matter, reported late Wednesday that Trump's promise "was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community."
"It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed," according to the Post. "It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information and may further strain his relationship with U.S. spy agencies. One former official said the communication was a phone call."
It’s approximately the worst case scenario—what the administration is seeking to suppress is an intelligence whistleblower complaint involving the President and a foreign leader, WaPo reports. Of course it is. https://t.co/6GZLfnx8VL
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 19, 2019
Though it revealed for the first time the president's direct involvement in the whisteblower complaint that has sparked frenzied speculation and public scrutiny by members of Congress, the Post's bombshell story may have raised more questions than it answered.
Warning that Trump will likely attempt to distract from the whistleblower story "with his usual theatrics and tweets," New York Times contributor Wajahat Ali asked on Twitter: "What was the alleged 'promise' Trump made? Who did he make it to? What was the agreement? How come the WH and DOJ [have] interfered in this process?"
The Post noted that the president spoke or met with at least five foreign leaders in the weeks preceding the whistleblower complaint, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
According to the Post, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson received the whistleblower complaint on Aug. 12, deemed it both "credible and urgent," and submitted it to Maguire.
"By law, Maguire is required to transmit such complaints to Congress within seven days," the Post reported. "But in this case, he refrained from doing so after turning for legal guidance to officials at the Justice Department."
Maguire's refusal to hand over the complaint to Congress, at the apparent advice of the Justice Department, sparked concerns that the acting intelligence chief and DOJ are subverting the law to protect the president.
John Dean, who served as White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, said the story "feels potentially very big."
"The Machiavellian Mr. Barr is protecting Trump from a whistleblower complaint, it's unprecedented," wrote Dean. "This may take impeachment in a totally new direction."