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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Acting DNI Vows to Protect Whistleblower as Trump-Ukraine Complaint to IG Unveiled

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire vowed today that he is “absolutely committed” to protecting the intelligence community whistleblower who accused President Trump of trying to use his office to get campaign help from the president of Ukraine.

Maguire told the House Intelligence Committee that he did not know the identity of the whistleblower, but the New York Times reported on the individual’s job role. “Publishing details about the whistleblower will only lead to identification of someone, whether our client or the wrong person, as the whistleblower,” said attorney Mark S. Zaid, one of the lawyers representing the whistleblower. “This will place this individual in a much more dangerous situation.”

The whistleblower filed a complaint Aug. 12 with the IC’s inspector general; the IG reviewed it and found it credible. Its existence came to light when Intel lawmakers demanded to know why it was being withheld from Congress. In response, the White House released its summary of a July 25 conversation between Trump and newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump asks his counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump also asked for “a favor” in which he wanted Zelensky to look into CrowdStrike, the company hired by the Democratic National Committee to assess the damage after the campaign 2016 cyberattack and found Russia to be responsible for the hack.

Today, the whistleblower complaint was released, alleging Trump “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

“This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well,” the whistleblower states, noting that over the previous four months “more than a half dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort” in the course of routine “official interagency business.”

The whistleblower, who wrote an unclassified report and a separate partially redacted classified enclosure, states that it’s “fulfilling my duty” to report the information through proper channels out of concern that “these actions pose risks to U.S. national security.”

“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call,” the whistleblower wrote of the Zelensky phone call, on which about a dozen White House officials were customarily listening in while assembled in the Situation Room. “They told me that there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”

In the days after the call, the complaint says that senior White House officials “intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call” and that White House lawyers ordered officials to remove the call transcript from the usual place in the computer system where such call records are stored. “Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature,” the whistleblower continued. “One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” He added later that he learned “this was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.”

The complaint details follow-ups from administration officials and Giuliani on “how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelensky” as well as the July 18 Office of Management and Budget notification that Trump had decided to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. The whistleblower said OMB officials “were unaware of a policy rationale” behind the aid freeze, which was lifted earlier this month.

Trump said at a private event in New York this morning that he wants “to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information, because that’s close to a spy.”

“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now,” the president said, according to an event recording obtained and published by the Los Angeles Times.

Maguire told House Intel lawmakers that he has “a deep and profound respect for the men and women of our intelligence community and the mission we execute every day on behalf of the American people.”

“I want to make it clear that I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way in the matter that is before us today,” he said. “I want to also state my support for the whistleblower and the rights and the laws… we must protect those who demonstrate courage to report alleged wrongdoing whether on the battlefield or in the workplace.”

The acting DNI stressed that he applauds “all employees who come forward under this act.”

“I am committed to ensuring that all whistleblower complaints are handled appropriately and to protecting the rights of whistleblowers. In this case, the complainant raised a matter with the intelligence community inspector general. The inspector general is properly protecting the complainant’s identity and will not permit the complainant to be subject to any retaliation or adverse consequences for communicating the complaint to the inspector general,” he said. “… I want to stress that I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout.”

Maguire explained the delay to Congress by noting he and the IG disagreed on not whether or not it was a matter of urgent concern, and that he is not “familiar with any prior instances where a whistleblower complaint touched on such complicated and sensitive issues, including executive privilege.”

Under questioning by members of the committee, Maguire said he has “made it my business to ensure that I do not” know the identity of the whistleblower or any political affiliation. “I just believe that the whistleblower was acting in good faith,” he added.

Pressed on the matter of whistleblower protection, the acting DNI said, “I will not permit the whistleblower to be subject to any retaliation or adverse consequences for going to the IG. I am absolutely committed to that.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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