More Bad Whistleblower News For Trump
A second potential whistleblower and an apparent criminal referral from the CIA's top lawyer make a bad week even worse for Donald Trump.
The New York Times is reporting that a second official is apparently considering filing a whistleblower complaint regarding the President’s July 25th phone call with the President of Ukraine, but it may not be necessary:
WASHINGTON — A second intelligence official who was alarmed by President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine is weighing whether to file his own formal whistle-blower complaint and testify to Congress, according to two people briefed on the matter.
The official has more direct information about the events than the first whistle-blower, whose complaint that Mr. Trump was using his power to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals touched off an impeachment inquiry. The second official is among those interviewed by the intelligence community inspector general to corroborate the allegations of the original whistle-blower, one of the people said.
The inspector general, Michael Atkinson, briefed lawmakers privately on Friday about how he substantiated the whistle-blower’s account. It was not clear whether he told lawmakers that the second official was considering filing a complaint.
A new complaint, particularly from someone closer to the events, would potentially add further credibility to the account of the first whistle-blower, a C.I.A. officer who was detailed to the National Security Council at one point. He said that he relied on information from more than a half-dozen American officials to compile his allegations about Mr. Trump’s campaign to solicit foreign election interference that could benefit him politically.
Other evidence has emerged to back the whistle-blower’s claim. A reconstructed transcript of a July call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky released by the White House also showed Mr. Trump pressuring Ukraine. Mr. Trump appeared to believe that its release would quell the push for impeachment, but it only emboldened House Democrats.
Because the second official has met with Mr. Atkinson’s office, it was unclear whether he needs to file a complaint to gain the legal protections offered to intelligence community whistle-blowers. Witnesses who speak with inspectors general are protected by federal law that outlaws reprisals against officials who cooperate with an inspector general.
Still, testimony from someone with more direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s efforts to use American foreign policy for potential political gain would most likely undermine conservatives’ attacks on the C.I.A. officer’s credibility.
The House Intelligence Committee has taken the lead on the investigation into the whistle-blower’s claims as part of the impeachment inquiry into whether Mr. Trump abused his powers by using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal interests. Committee aides had sought to interview the whistle-blower last week but have yet to sit down with him, and it was unclear how soon they could.
As I noted, it’s not even clear that it would be necessary for this second person to come forward as a whistleblower in otder to receive the protections of that law. As noted, anyone who is interviewed by an Inspector General in connection with an investigation related to a whistleblower complaint is protected by the provisions of the law and it appears that this person was already interviewed by the Inspector General. Given that, this second person could be interviewed by the Intelligence Committee as part of the ongoing investigation and still be protected by the whistleblower law.
That being said, the significance of a second person coming forward regarding the Ukraine phone call, especially one with more direct knowledge of the relevant facts, would certainly bolster the impeachment case and bolster the claims of the initial whistleblower, which has already seen their claims confirmed by documents released by the White House and admissions by White House officials, seems rather obvious. Additionally, such a move could end up encouraging others with even more relevant knowledge to come forward. This would be especially true if it can be shown that the whistleblower process is doing its job in protecting the identity, career, and family of the whistleblower. With these assurances, others with relevant information would hopefully be encouraged to speak up about wrongdoing they have observed.
This news comes at the same time that NBC News is reporting that the top lawyer at the CIA made a criminal referral to the Justice Department regarding the Trump-Zelensky phone call weeks before the whistleblower’s complaint became public:
Weeks before the whistleblower’s complaint became public, the CIA’s top lawyer made what she considered to be a criminal referral to the Justice Department about the whistleblower’s allegations that President Donald Trump abused his office in pressuring the Ukrainian president, U.S. officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News.
The move by the CIA’s general counsel, Trump appointee Courtney Simmons Elwood, meant she and other senior officials had concluded a potential crime had been committed, raising more questions about why the Justice Department later declined to open an investigation.
The phone call that Elwood considered to be a criminal referral is in addition to the referral later received as a letter from the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community regarding the whistleblower complaint.
Justice Department officials said they were unclear whether Elwood was making a criminal referral and followed up with her later to seek clarification but she remained vague.
In the days since the anonymous whistleblower complaint was made public accusing him of wrongdoing, Trump has lashed out at his accuser and other insiders who provided the accuser with information, suggesting they were improperly spying on what was a “perfect” call between him and the Ukrainian president.
But a timeline provided by U.S. officials familiar with the matter shows that multiple senior government officials appointed by Trump found the whistleblower’s complaints credible, troubling and worthy of further inquiry starting soon after the president’s July phone call.
Ordinarily, a criminal referral such as this would prompt the Justice Department to immediately open a criminal investigation. Given the fact that the Attorney General is directly implicated in the whistleblower’s complaint, in fact, he should recuse himself and any decisions on this matter should be put in the hands of the Deputy Attorney General. Furthermore, as with the Russia investigation, one could make an argument that there ought to be a Special Counsel appointed to investigate this matter. Instead, the Justice Department under William Barr has apparently become the private lawyer for the President — the Roy Cohn — that Donald Trump has been looking for from the start. Rather than investigate a matter that obviously has merit, Justice Department officials are apparently willing to look the other way. This is John Mitchell all over again, and it’s inexcusable.