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What We Have Learned So Far About The Whistleblower's Complaint


The acting director of national intelligence is in the middle of testimony this morning about his handling of a whistleblower's complaint. Now, that complaint is at the center of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Tim Mak, NPR's congressional correspondent, is watching all of this unfold. He's on the line now. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

KING: OK. So this whistleblower complaint, made public this morning, what does it tell us that we didn't know seven or eight hours ago?

MAK: So the complaint centers around a July phone call made by President Trump to the president of Ukraine. We knew a little bit about that because a memo kind of laying out what happened in that call had been previously released. But we kind of get what the whistleblower felt was so problematic about that call. During the call, the president asked the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation into his perspective 2020 election opponent, Joe Biden, and Joe Biden's son.

The whistleblower also goes on to say that White House officials - there were some White House officials that were deeply disturbed by the Ukraine phone call because they had, quote, "witnessed the president abuse his power for personal gain." That is - sorry - "abuse his office for personal gain." After the call, the whistleblower said that White House officials had then gone out of their way to quote-unquote, "lock down" all records of the phone call and then put that transcript into a system used to handle especially sensitive classified information, and that this was not even the first time in this administration that a presidential transcript had been placed on this secret system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive information.

KING: OK. So needless to say, there is a lot in this complaint that will be of interest in the coming days and weeks. The complaint was originally withheld by the director of national intelligence. He didn't turn it over to Congress. When Maguire was asked why, what did he say?

MAK: So a lot of the questioning today surrounds this question. The law requires that whistleblower complaints shall - shall be transmitted to Congress if they fit the statutory definition of urgent concern. And the intelligence community inspector general did feel like it met that definition. Maguire is kind of defending himself. He's saying that the complaint involved items relating to the president's executive - the president and the White House's executive privilege, and he can't just waive that privilege. So he consulted with the Justice Department and the White House Office of Legal Counsel, and that is the process, he claims, that led to a delay in providing that complaint to Congress.

Democrats have said and countered that there isn't an exception in the law for that scenario and that Maguire was obligated to turn over that complaint. Maguire also told the committee this morning that he does not know who the whistleblower is but has no reason to question his or her credibility.


JOSEPH MAGUIRE: I want to stress that I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout. I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.

KING: OK. Let me ask you about Republicans on this committee. How have they focused their questions to Maguire? Is there something that they're trying to get at with him?

MAK: Well, Devin Nunes, he's the top Republican on the committee, and most of the other Republicans on the panel are focusing again on leaks. They're interested in how the information relating to the whistleblower's complaint made its way out into the press. And they're not as focused on the content of the president's actions or asking questions about what the president may or may not have done. But some Republicans are saying they find fault with the president's actions. Here is what Congressman Mike Turner, a Republican congressman from Ohio, had to say.


MIKE TURNER: Now, I've read the complaint. And I've read the transcript of the conversation with the president and the president of Ukraine. Concerning that conversation, I want to say to the president, this is not OK. It isn't - that conversation is not OK. And I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript.

MAK: Well, Democrats have said that that Maguire shouldn't have consulted with the subject of the complaint - that is, the White House - before releasing the complaint to Congress.

KING: NPR's congressional correspondent Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.