Members of Congress have said that a U.S. intelligence official made a whistleblower complaint on Aug. 12 which, according to news reports, involves an inappropriate promise made by Donald Trump to a foreign leader. By law, these types of complaints must be turned over to Congress for oversight purposes, and the federal inspector general who monitors intelligence agencies has determined that the matter is an an “urgent” one. The Trump administration’s acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, however, is refusing to turn over the complaint or to allow the inspector general to convey any information about it to Congress.
One explanation for this is that Maguire and the White House have genuine concerns that the complaint involves material that is protected, for national security and/or separation-of-powers reasons, by executive privilege. Another possibility is that the Trump administration has set a policy of ignoring—if not outright belittling—any congressional investigation that could expose its embarrassing or potentially criminal behavior.
The second explanation has the advantage, as an explanation, that it matches everything else that the administration has already done (or refused to do), without requiring anyone to believe that the White House is deciding how to deal with Congress on a case-by-case basis, using different reasons, yet by some wild improbable chance it always keeps reaching the same conclusion. Its disadvantage, as an explanation, is that it would mean that Congress is humiliatingly impotent to do anything about a president who chooses to ignore the law.
So leading congressional Democrats have chosen instead to act as if the first explanation is the likely one. On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff agreed to postpone a hearing at which Maguire was going to testify about the matter, and explained his decision in a public letter:
The Committee is making this extraordinary accommodation to provide your office a good-faith opportunity to comply in full with the Committee’s duly authorized Sept. 13 subpoena.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the Dems’ ranking member on the upper chamber’s intelligence committee, also thinks Maguire is just about to get this whole thing straightened out. From the New York Times:
Senator Mark Warner … said on Thursday that he and the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, also expected both the inspector general and acting director to brief them early next week and “clear this issue up.”
Let’s check in on the White House, via a Wednesday story in the Washington Post, to see whether it does, in fact, plan on clearing everything up in good faith so long as Congress lets it take its time:
Two White House officials suggested that the administration could defy congressional requests because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it clear she is reluctant about impeachment. They also have calculated that there won’t be a public price to pay for stonewalling Congress, in part because the clock is running out.