The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a whistleblower in the intelligence community had filed a formal complaint last month about President Donald Trump’s communications with an undisclosed foreign leader, focusing on a “promise” the president allegedly had made. On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the complaint dealt with multiple actions by Trump, and was not limited to just one phone call.
Given the unknowns, the story and the politics around it are confusing. In particular, the fight over disclosing that complaint has become messy, embroiling members of Congress and intelligence officials. It’s worth taking a minute to remember who they are and why they have (or profess to have) taken their respective stances.
Inspector general for the U.S. Intelligence Community
Atkinson received the whistleblower complaint in August and deemed it credible and of “urgent concern.” Once he determined the issue to be serious, he alerted the House and Senate intelligence committees to the matter in early September (as was legally mandated). On Thursday, he briefed the lawmakers privately on the complaint, though he reportedly left out specifics about the substance of the complaint.
The inspector general for the intelligence community is tasked with looking out for fraud, mismanagement, and other misconduct. Atkinson was sworn into the role in May 2018. He’d previously worked as a lawyer in private practice and at the Justice Department, where he later led the department’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section and helped lead its National Security Division.
Acting director of national intelligence
Maguire received the complaint from Atkinson two weeks after the whistleblower submitted it. As the leader of the intelligence community, Maguire was responsible for turning over the complaint to Congress, as is legally required. But he has refused, arguing that the complaint is not under his purview because it involves the White House, which is not part of the intelligence community. This has placed him in direct conflict with congressional Democrats, who contend that he is improperly protecting the president. His defenders say he is simply following legal advice from Justice Department officials.
Last week, the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena ordering Maguire to turn over the complaint and testify before Congress. Maguire’s office warned that the complaint involved “potentially privileged” matters, and Maguire initially refused to appear at the hearing, saying he was unavailable. He later agreed to testify and is now scheduled to appear before the committee next week.
Maguire was named acting director in August after a brief controversy over Trump’s initial choice to replace Dan Coats, who was ousted after angering the president by telling him things he didn’t want to hear. Rep. John Ratcliffe had been Trump’s first choice, but lawmakers questioned Ratcliffe’s qualifications and criticized Ratcliffe as a loyalty hire.
Maguire, a retired Navy admiral who served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, is not a career intelligence officer. But he was reportedly considered a reasonable choice within the community, which was relieved to have escaped someone more inexperienced, like Ratcliffe.
Rep. Adam Schiff
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee
Schiff, a Democrat from California, has led the charge to have Maguire hand over the full complaint. Schiff has warned he would look into ways to force the complaint’s release, including taking it to court.
The Unnamed Whistleblower
All we know as of yet is that this person is an intelligence official represented by Andrew P. Bakaj, a former CIA and Pentagon official. It’s still unclear if the whistleblower witnessed the subject of the complaint directly or learned about it in other ways.
The Undisclosed Foreign Leader(s)
It’s not clear yet if we’re talking about one or more foreign leaders, and there’s a number of possibilities. The complaint was filed on Aug. 12. Before then, Trump spoke with several leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Pakistan, the emir of Qatar, and the prime minister of the Netherlands. Trump also received at least two letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the previous weeks.
President of the United States