Background On The Intelligence Community Whistleblower's Complaint
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
What was so concerning about that U.S. intelligence official who filed a whistleblower complaint? Well, that's the question right now in Washington. But when President Trump was asked to address it today, he tried to put the focus instead on former Vice President Joe Biden. Now to explain the story, we're joined by NPR's Ryan Lucas.
Welcome to the studio.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.
CORNISH: Can you tell us more about what's behind the whistleblower's complaint? What were they worried about?
LUCAS: Well, what we know at this point - we don't know actually the substance of the complaint. But what we know at this point about this whole saga is that a U.S. intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint to the intelligence community's inspector general on August 12. The inspector general took a look at it, came to the conclusion that it was credible, that it rose to the level of what's called an urgent concern. The inspector general kicked it up to the director of national intelligence, Robert Maguire (ph). He and his office took a look at it. They consulted with the Justice Department, and they came to a different conclusion.
Their conclusion was that the complaint does not legally qualify as an urgent concern, which means that they don't have to share it with Congress. So Congress has not received it. That is why we have the standoff now between the administration and lawmakers, most notably, of course, the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee. Now the committee's argument is that the law is clear; the complaint has to be shared with lawmakers.
CORNISH: There are news reports that the complaint relates to a conversation President Trump had with the president of Ukraine. What more do you know about that?
LUCAS: Well, this remains a little bit murky. But yes, The Washington Post is reporting that the call involved Ukraine and what The Post called a promise that the president made to Ukraine's leader. NPR has not independently confirmed this. But we do know that President Trump spoke with Ukraine's leader on July 25, so a few weeks before the whistleblower's complaint was filed. The Ukrainian president's office put out a statement at the time about the call with Trump, and it said that Trump voiced hope about Ukraine completing corruption investigations that had basically kind of bogged down U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Now
that call is already under scrutiny. Three House committees launched an investigation earlier this month into whether Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have improperly tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump's potential opponent in 2020 - that's former Vice President Joe Biden.
CORNISH: That brings us to today, when reporters at the White House asked the president about all of this. What did he have to say?
LUCAS: Well, the president was asked about it at the White House, where he was meeting with the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison. Trump dismissed the story, said that it was ridiculous. He called the whistleblower a partisan actor, also admitted that - at the same point in time, that he has no idea who the whistleblower is. On a more substantive level, Trump denied that he has done anything improper in his talks with foreign leaders.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I've had conversations with many leaders. They're always appropriate. I think Scott can tell you they're always appropriate - at the highest level, always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country. I fight so strongly for this country. It's just another political hack job.
CORNISH: How did the president talk about Joe Biden, specifically?
LUCAS: Well, he was asked by reporters whether he had discussed Biden in his July 25 call with Ukraine's president. He was asked directly about that. And here's what the president said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: It doesn't matter what I discussed. But I will say this - somebody ought to look into Joe Biden's statement because it was disgraceful.
LUCAS: Now what the president is referring to is an allegation that he and Giuliani have been pushing for months now. And what they allege is that when Biden was vice president, he pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a top prosecutor in Ukraine. And Trump says that Biden did this to protect Biden's son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian company that was reportedly under investigation. Now people have looked into these claims already. And so far, there is no evidence that has surfaced to support Trump's claims.
CORNISH: What happens next in this story?
LUCAS: So the director of national intelligence, Robert Maguire (ph), is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee about this next Thursday. He's guaranteed to face a grilling if this isn't resolved by then. The committee's chairman, Adam Schiff, he's threatened to take this to court, take the administration to court over this. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee is dealing with it kind of behind the scenes. But if this drags out, there may be more details that will come out through the media, not through Congress.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.