The White House vs. the Whistleblower

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S1: Somewhere in Washington right now there is this whistleblower. We don’t know who they are what their job is whether they’re a man or a woman. The only thing we do know is that they are in the middle of a political firestorm.

S2: What prompted a whistleblower inside the intelligence community to raise what the community’s top watchdog decided were quote urgent concerns. And why haven’t those concerns been brought before Congress as the law requires the president’s whistle blower strategy.

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S3: A Twitter defense.

S4: Trump did nothing wrong. All of this reviving questions about collusion.

S3: And of course the more legal term of art when you try to do something illegal conspiracy about a week ago I started hearing about this whistle blower. I have a feeling though that you were hearing about this before I was.

S5: Well we first heard about the whistle blower. This would have been I guess a week ago Friday.

S1: Shane Harris is a reporter at The Washington Post covers national security. He says this all started a few Fridays ago. Friday the 13th. That’s when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff revealed a whistleblower had filed a complaint.

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S6: But that the Director of National Intelligence was blocking Schiff’s committee from seeing it. We do not have the complaint. We do not know whether the press reports are accurate or.

S7: Inaccurate about the contents of that complaint.

S8: And then Adam Schiff very tantalizingly referred to the contours of what he knew about the complaint and said it strongly suggests that it might be about behavior by the president or senior administration officials.

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S5: And that was sort of like chum in the water for journalists who then spent the following day sort of calling everybody we could we could think of to figure out what was this whistleblower complaint really about and what was the back story.

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S3: I wonder how common is it for the Director of National Intelligence to block a whistleblower from going to Congress. Because my understanding is that there’s a really precise process that this follows.

S5: I have never heard of the Director of National Intelligence blocking a whistleblower from going to Congress. And in what’s supposed to happen here and you’re right this is spelled out in the law.

S1: And I think it’s fairly unambiguous in the plain language of the statute what the statute says is that when the office of the inspector general gets a whistleblower complaint they evaluate how credible and urgent it is. If it’s both like this one it’s sent to the Director of National Intelligence.

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S5: The DNI almost as a courtesy at that point the law says the DNI shall transmit to Congress this complaint. And that’s not what happened here. This is why Adam Schiff I think was so apoplectic right is because it became clear that rather than just turning the whistleblower complaint over what he understood was that the DNI had gone and sought guidance from the Department of Justice. That’s also not supposed to happen. So at the very least it said a there’s something unusual about this complaint. But B now we’ve got another arm of government run by a political appointee of the president the attorney general coming in and telling the DNI do not tell Congress about this whistleblower. So here we are in the middle of a tug of war on one side a president in his department of justice looking to protect executive power.

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S9: On the other a congressional committee that is trying to oversee that president and all of them are searching for legal arguments to defend their point of view but then separate to that of course is the issue of what exactly did this whistleblower say and did he say something that was potentially politically damaging to the president. And that’s why the Justice Department and we now think the White House counsel’s office are coming in and trying to silence that.

S10: Today on the show the mystery of the White House and the whistleblower Shane Harris has been breaking news on the story from the beginning. He’s going to walk us through what you need to know. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next.

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S11: Stick with us well so let’s talk a little bit about what we know and we don’t right now.

S3: So for a little while we didn’t even know who the whistleblower was complaining about. But then we very quickly got the sense it could be the president. And then we began getting these reports from you and other people that it involved Ukraine. So tell me a little bit if you could just sum up what we think we know right now.

S12: Well what we think we know is that on July 25th the president President Trump had a phone call with the president of Ukraine that we do know that’s a fact. And we know from reporting that on that phone call eight different times he brought up that Ukraine should look into these allegations against Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and Trump links links this to what he views as kind of endemic corruption and a problem that Ukraine is having with corruption and saying you know if we’re gonna have a good relationship you need to look into this and kind of get your house in order. So eight different times pressuring the president of Ukraine to open up an investigation on Joe Biden’s son.

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S3: Do we know that that’s what the whistleblower is complaining about.

S7: We don’t know 100 percent. And here’s why. What we know about the whistleblowers complaint is that it involves a communication by the president with a foreign leader it involves Ukraine and it involves some kind of promise. And I put that word in quotation marks because that’s sort of the word the people of our sources have been telling us is at issue here. Now that certainly strongly suggests that the whistleblower is talking about this particular phone call on July 25th which the president has acknowledged. But what we also know from Inspector General testimony earlier this week is that it’s not just about a phone call. This whistleblower is we understand making allegations about a series of different events or actions revolving around Ukraine and the administration’s dealings with Ukraine. So there’s this phone call but we think there are other events as well. And in order for the inspector general to find this a credible allegation and kind of go through the check the boxes that it means something is to be reported to Congress. It has to involve a flagrant violation of the law or a kind of corrupt purpose and it has to involve in intelligence activities. So something that goes on in the intelligence community.

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S1: So the question Jane’s asking himself here is how does this presidential phone call get swept up in a whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community.

S7: That part’s still a little fuzzy to us frankly why is the president having a phone call with the president of Ukraine constitute an intelligence activity. But then there’s this other piece at the time that the president was talking to the president of Ukraine. There was a 250 million dollar aid package that Congress had approved for military and intelligence support to the Ukrainian government essentially to help them defend against Russian aggression. We remember back in 2014 Russia invaded Crimea and annexed that from the Ukraine. They seized their sovereign territory. There has been a lot of reporting and now there’s a subject of three different congressional investigations into whether the president President Trump was slow rolling that funding and not letting you know sort of stopping it from going to Ukraine to exert some kind of leverage or pressure on the government of Ukraine to go investigate Joe Biden’s son. It would be reasonable to assume that if the whistleblower believed that the president were exercising some kind of leverage or improperly trying to stop funding that included military and intelligence support that that might trigger that intelligence activity piece in the whistleblower law. So at this point all we know. Phone call. Ukraine. The president pressuring the president of Ukraine on Joe Biden but it seems like there’s perhaps this other piece about him holding out or threatening to withhold funding that Congress duly authorized and passed for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia. The question becomes Was the president sort of trying to use that as pressure or kind of extort the Russian or the Ukrainian government into investigating the son of his political opponent.

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S3: I think it’s we should say that the money was eventually released this month but that came well after the West a whistleblower complaints.

S12: Yeah. In fact the money was released and there had been Press reporting at the time it was being slow rolled. Interestingly it was released days within the inspector general of the DNI notifying Congress about this complaint.

S7: Now we in the public didn’t know about that yet but I think it’s very interesting that once that complaint at least the notice of the complaint goes to Congress that money does start flowing. And what we know from reporting is well that by the time that the public found out about the whistleblower complaint from Adam Schiff the White House counsel was aware of it as was the Justice Department. So it wasn’t just the DNI that knew about this whistleblower It was also pieces of the Trump administration and important offices within the administration as well.

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S3: Is that how that’s supposed to work that those offices know about a whistleblower.

S12: No this is not how it’s supposed to work. In fact you know the heart of the whistleblower statute in the heart and the spirit of whistle blower protections of course in general is that there has to be an avenue for a government employee to come forward and raise an issue about possible wrongdoing or illegal acts and have anonymity because they want to be protected. They want to be protected from retribution. And you know once this person’s name becomes known he or she would very justifiably fear being demoted or penalized at work possibly fired. And of course in this political environment has every reason to expect that if you were exposed or she exposed supporters of the president might come after that person or harassing them or or maybe doing worse. So this is it’s always delicate with whistleblowers mainly because of their their jobs being at risk here were actually I think talking about potentially even more because of the explosive political nature of this. So that’s why you keep the name and identity and the complaint away from political officials.

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S3: Well we already see the president going on Twitter and saying that this is a partisan person whoever this whistleblower is. How much do we know about their role and how they would have even known about this phone call.

S7: Well what we know is that this individual is an employee in the intelligence community so that means he or she works for an intelligence agency. And at some point was detailed to the White House as well working on the National Security Council. Now that in itself is not unusual a lot of intelligence agency employees go over and do a detail there maybe working on a particular country like Russia or a particular issue set like cybersecurity because they’re like the subject matter experts and they come work on the NSC or a lot of the policies around this get crafted. And from reporting what we understand is that the individual may not have actually been in the White House may have already returned back to his or her home agency when this phone call happened and maybe some other activity around it. So could have learned about it from colleagues in the White House could have learned about it from readouts or reports or memos that are created after the president has conversations with foreign leaders regardless again of the how we would need for an order of the A.G. to find it to be credible and I think it would have to be some kind of documentation was involved here. So this person I don’t think was just passing on rumor I think this individual you know had something to back up the claim of wrongdoing and these calls there are often transcripts of them.

S3: Right.

S13: Yeah. In fact I think that it not only transcripts on our side but apparently transcripts on the other side and I have to suspect that the reason we know from a report in The Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago that the president mentioned Joe Biden and his son eight times is because the Ukrainians have a recording of that call to you.

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S3: Tell me a little bit about this. How do these calls usually work.

S12: Well usually when the president calls a foreign leader it’s set up well in advance. There are people from both governments on each end of the call. So it’s not like the two of them are having a private phone conversation there are note takers there are people who are going to take make memos for the record. Oftentimes the subjects that they’re going to talk about are actually agreed upon in advance and this is a very kind of formal event when they speak to each other obviously if they know each other and they’re friendly. There might be some pleasantries exchanged. In this case President Trump says he was calling essentially to congratulate the new president and then he says no to encourage him to look into corruption in his country and then goes into talking about Joe Biden.

S1: This kind of request asking the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden it puts Ukraine in a bind since 2014 the country’s been locked in conflict with Russia. They need U.S. support to bolster their military.

S13: But they’ve also got to manage this relationship with Donald Trump who we know from reporting that we’ve done at the post views Ukraine as kind of a nuisance. And he’s said to officials in his administration you know anytime we try to help out the Ukrainians it just upsets Russia. And I don’t want to do that. So Ukraine finds itself having go on the one hand defend from Russia and on the other hand try and not upset President Trump who seems to be more friends with Vladimir Putin than he is with the government in Ukraine. And that’s kind of where we are now in the geopolitics of it. And you’ve seen even as these allegations have been coming out Ukrainian officials kind of rushing to get in front of a camera and say No no no no we don’t think the president is trying to pressure us. They were just having you know leader to leader conversations. I think that tells you that the Ukrainians are very nervous about being perceived as somehow antagonizing President Trump and trying to set him up or make him look bad because frankly they want his thought. And at the time of this phone call back in July were actually desperate to get a meeting with the president as well it was very important for the president of Ukraine to be seen literally seen sitting with President Trump as a show of solidarity and as a show demonstration that he could count on the United States to be in Ukraine’s corner and of course the president of Ukraine and President Trump may be meeting at the U.N. General Assembly later this week I think.

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S7: Yeah that’s right. And won’t that be potentially a very awkward meeting presidents landscape Ukraine and President Trump are scheduled to meet and that is something I’m sure that the Ukrainians would like to see still so happen but of course both of them are going to get questions about this and are going to get questions about this phone call that they had. It’s going to be extremely awkward. It wouldn’t surprise me if the meeting were called off at the last minute maybe they’ll meet behind closed doors. But but boy do they find themselves in an incredibly awkward position now being on this world stage for all these world leaders are there and everyone’s going to want to ask both men only about one subject.

S1: There’s one more character that Shane Harris wants you to pay attention to as this drama unfolds. Rudy Giuliani the president’s lawyer Giuliani has been doing everything he can to shift the public’s attention from the president. Back to Joe Biden.

S13: Rudy Giuliani has really been for some months now aggressively lobbying and trying to pressure Ukrainian officials into investigating Joe Biden’s son. We should say full stop here. There is zero evidence that Joe Biden’s son or Joe Biden did anything illegal or improper with regards to Ukraine. But Giuliani really has been the tip of the spear from Trump world on this effort to prod and pressure Ukraine to start putting the heat on Joe Biden. He’s gone over to Europe and had meetings with them. He’s talked about this publicly in interviews in recent months. And so when we when we when we see him kind of taking to the airwaves this week and talking about this whistleblower complaint and about Ukraine and Trump and Biden you know he’s been at this for months now and doing it in his capacity as the president’s lawyer. You know he’s never shied away from that he likes to say well I’m a private citizen but I’m also the lawyer of the president. And we know from reporting in some cases as even you know leaned on administration officials to set up meetings for him with Ukrainians. So so Rudy is kind of like going back and forth between them. I’m just a friend of the president a normal citizen here except I’m his lawyer and now I’m talking to people in the administration about it.

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S3: You know Rudy is all kinds of ways deep into the you know the Ukraine conspiracy theory yeah which which brings up something else which is that right now we’re in the middle of the messaging war which is we’re seeing the information come out from reporters like you. And as it does we’re seeing people try to frame what that information means and what was so striking about this past week to me. You know you saw that appearance by Rudolph Giuliani on Chris Cuomo show and he made this a remarkable turnabout. He started out by saying you know of course you know we would not do this with Ukraine and then well of course I did. And so you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden. Of course I did. You just said you didn’t know.

S4: I didn’t ask him to look at the Joe Biden was the allegations related to my client which tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery is he not.

S3: And it seemed to me like this sort of beginning of trying to message that we did it and it’s fine.

S13: Yeah I mean I am having flashbacks to you know the Russia story which I spent nearly three years of my of my time as a journalist working on. It’s many of the same themes. But to your point it’s also the same kind of pushback.

S7: You know Rudy Giuliani was a stalwart and was always on the cable shows going out and talking about how there was no collusion. But even if Donald Trump did talk to Russia there’d be nothing wrong with it. And the fact that Giuliani is out and frankly the fact that Cabinet secretaries including Pompeo and Secretary Manute Shin who I don’t know what his connection is to this at all I’ve been on the Sunday shows trying to defend this I think tells you that that messaging machine has spun back up again and it’s going to be the same plays that we saw during the Russia story where the effort is create obfuscation create confusion and doubt shoot the messenger. In the case of the whistleblower you know the president saying he must be a partisan even though he appears not to know who it is and then say that the media is biased or the media is distorted or they’re focusing on the wrong story because why aren’t you investigating Joe Biden.

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S3: The allegations here that the president may have offered aid or withheld aid in exchange for the investigation of a political foe. I feel like we need to really lay out the stakes of an action like that because I heard one person say well it’s you know sounds like bribery. But then I heard another say well it’s actually it’s more than that. Like we we actually shouldn’t frame it that’s too small to understand this kind of transaction. If it’s true and I wonder if you think about that the same way.

S14: Yeah I do. And so let me try and describe it succinctly this way with the caveat that like let’s take all these dots and say okay if this is true if what happened there is there is strong indication that the president used taxpayer money congressionally appropriated funds in the form of an aid package to try and pressure a foreign government to interfere in the presidential election by smearing his political opponent and the person who is quite likely to be running against him for the White House. That scenario if that is accurate of what happened here I think it is objectively fair to say is a kind of corruption that we’ve just never seen in the White House and perhaps the irony of it is that after spending three years with the Mueller investigation and the FBI investigation previously so that you know talking as a country having a national discussion about the legality and the morality and the ethics of foreign interference in an election and a president who insisted that there was none and he had nothing to do with it it’s starting to look like in this case he not only invited it he potentially engineered it and may have used taxpayer funds as a tool to that end. That’s again if that’s true that’s astonishing.

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S3: What do people need to be watching for this week because we’ll see some testimony on Capitol Hill too right.

S12: Yeah. This week Thursday the acting director of national intelligence John McGuire is supposed to appear before Adam shifts intelligence committee and this is the guy who blocked the whistleblower complaint. Yes it is. But you know there’s something to remember about McGuire technically speaking yes. In so far as he’s the acting DNI but a couple of things keep in mind about McGuire a he’s in an acting position B he’s not really a big fan of the president. I know from just talking to people who know Joe McGuire he is not a partisan. And I think that he probably finds himself in a really difficult position that I believe that he would argue was not of his making in so far as you know his office. Yes consulted with the Justice Department and then had to go to the White House. But it’s the Justice Department and the White House that are telling the DNI here you know you can’t transmit this to Congress. And I just have to imagine that Joe Maguire is looking at people in the White House and the DOJ and saying great you know you’ve put me in this position where I look like the person whose idea was to withhold this thing. This is your thing this is your legal interpretation of what I’m supposed to do. This involves the president. Now why am I the one stuck holding this. I don’t know if you’ll testify. They may try it. The administration may prevent him from testifying. But boy I would love to hear it show requires response to just like you know what kind of what kind of month have you been having.

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S15: Yeah. Busy. How do you really feel. Lot of Sunday phone calls. Yeah yeah.

S3: So what do we need to look for now. I mean we’ve begun to see Democrats speaking more strongly about the idea that we need to investigate this and to do that we need to trigger impeachment. We just saw Adam Schiff go in front of cameras and say we may have crossed the Rubicon but I’m wondering if it’s going to be if it’s going to need to be more than just even very high up Democrats making noise here for this to become something we agree we need to investigate.

S12: Yeah I think that that’s right. And I think the place to look would be Senate Republicans. You know if if one of them branch breaks ranks and says this is really troubling and this is really serious and we’ve got to take a look at it then you start to see a crack in the wall because right now I mean Nancy Pelosi where she is she’s said this publicly is not she is not in favor of bringing impeachment because she knows the Senate would never vote to remove the President if you start to see you know one or two. I mean gosh one it would be you know incredible if they broke is this but maybe some of these modern Republicans start to question it. That’s Ken that’s going to be a sign because you are as you said you’re seeing Democrats in the House notably Adam Schiff who have not really been on the impeachment train looking like they’re buying a ticket and there is something about this particular story that caught on very quickly and has created a kind of new momentum it’s its and say it’s not going to go away. It’ll figure in the campaign but I’m watching those Senate Republicans every word they say very closely.

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S16: Shane Harris thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Shane Harris reports on intelligence and national security over the Washington Post. All right. That’s the show. If you want to dig a little deeper and find out what these allegations are against Joe Biden and his son Hunter. You can go back into our archives and listen to a show called The Cloud over Joe Biden’s son. It ran this summer. Look it up on iTunes. It’s right there and it’ll walk you through that step by step. If you find that helpful or any of our shows go over and leave us a reading a review. You can do it really simply on Apple podcasts. We love when you do it because it lets us know how we’re doing what we can do better. And you know we show our parents what next is produced by Mary Wilson Jason de Leone Daniel Hewett and Maurice silvers. I’m Mary Harris. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.