Politics explained: More on the unclassified whistleblower complaint

Politics explained: More on the unclassified whistleblower complaint

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - An unclassified whistleblower complaint, testimony on Capitol Hill, and a series of tweets and statements from lawmakers may all have you wondering exactly how we got here.

It began August 12 when a whistleblower filed an official complaint with the Office of Intelligence Community Inspector General. From there, the Inspector General worked to determine if the complaint is credible and of “urgent concern” to Congress. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act defines “urgent concern” as “a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of the law of executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operation of an intelligence activity involving classified information.”

If the complaint reaches this threshold, it is then sent to the Director of National Intelligence. In this case, Joseph Maguire is the Acting DNI. But Maguire then took the complaint to the White House instead of Congress, which is usually the next step in the process.

Maguire said he deviated from the law because when he read the complaint he was “struck by the fact that many of the allegations in the complaint are based on a conversation between the President and another foreign leader, and such calls are typically subject to executive privilege,” as he said in his opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee. According to Maguire, the Office of Legal Counsel, part of the executive branch, disagreed with the Inspector General and said the complaint wasn’t urgent.

Therefore, the Inspector General wrote a letter to the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint. Rep. Adam Schiff then subpoenaed Maguire to turn over the whistleblower complaint when he was denied access to it by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on the recommendation of the Justice Department.

To Schiff and other Democrats on his committee, Maguire had withheld the document “on the basis of advice given by the subject or subjects of that complaint," Rep. Schiff noted.

Experts said simply having an Inspector General report involving the president is rare and puts Maguire in a unique position.

"The executive privilege argument here is a little contentious. Executive privilege is not something that has clearly defined boundaries," said Scott Anderson, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and a former U.S. Diplomat.

Maguire explained his position at the beginning of his testimony saying, “The Justice Department interprets statutes and makes legal determinations on behalf of the executive branch, particularly the Office of Legal Counsel, and that is the office that weighed in and provided guidance on whether the whistleblower statute requires the DNI to pass this complaint on, and they determined it doesn’t.”

During Maguire’s testimony, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, called the premise for the hearing a “fake story.” He also said this is all “information warfare operation against the president.”

President Trump echoed that sentiment on Twitter writing Schiff has “has zero credibility” and this is all ”another fantasy to hurt the Republican Party!”

Anderson said, from here, Congress will start working to chase down the facts brought up in the whistleblower complaint. He said the Inspector General probably already laid down some groundwork, but “it is up to Congress at this point as it considers impeachment or other possible responses."

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