Lawmakers Debate Credibility Of Details In Whistleblower's Complaint
NOEL KING, HOST:
Democrats launched their first major investigative move against President Trump yesterday. They called his acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, to testify in a congressional hearing. It went on for three hours. It got heated at some points. Maguire would not make a judgment about whether the president's call with the Ukrainian president was problematic.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOSEPH MAGUIRE: How the president of the United States wants to conduct diplomacy is his business, and I - it is not whether or not I approve it or disapprove of it.
KING: A whistleblower complaint against President Trump is at the center of an impeachment inquiry that Democrats launched this week. So a lot of news here.
NPR's Ryan Lucas has been following all of it. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So the whistleblower complaint released yesterday, what accusations does it make? What's in there that we didn't know?
LUCAS: Well, one thing that we did know but is worth highlighting again is that the complaint raises the allegation that President Trump pressured his Ukrainian counterpart in a phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden's son. And what the whistleblower says in the complaint essentially matches what we saw in the account of the phone call that the White House released this week. But the important thing, the big new thing to come out of this complaint, is the allegation that the White House tried to hide evidence of this phone call because they were worried about what had transpired on the call.
According to the complaint, White House officials tried to lock down all records of the call with Ukraine's president. The complaint says that White House lawyers ordered the electronic transcript of the call to be removed from the computer system where these transcripts are typically kept. And then they had it placed instead on a separate system where highly classified, highly sensitive national security-related materials are kept. And that's despite the fact that this call did not contain that sort of material.
KING: OK. Republicans are pointing out that this information is not firsthand, right? The whistleblower admits, I wasn't the one on the call. I'm hearing this from other people.
LUCAS: Right, right. The whistleblower is up-front in the complaint that they were not - he or she - we, of course, don't know the identity of this individual - was not a direct witness to most of this, says that this information is not firsthand. But the whistleblower says in the complaint that the information comes from more than a half-dozen U.S. officials - some of them are folks in the White House - and says that those officials relayed accounts of the events and details of what transpired over the course of regular high-level government business.
And the whistleblower says, importantly, that he or she found them credible because the accounts that the individual was getting from folks were largely consistent with one another, and they were hearing this from multiple people. It wasn't just one individual, one rumor that they had heard and were then running with.
KING: OK. So, I mean, this story moved very quickly this week. A lot happened. What do we expect Congress to do now?
LUCAS: Well, the whistleblower's complaint provides essentially a roadmap for congressional investigators, particularly for the House Intelligence Committee, which is point on matters of impeachment. One person that the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee as well are already working to talk to, of course, is the mystery behind this - that's the whistleblower. The director of National Intelligence says that his office is working with the whistleblower's attorneys to get them security clearances. And that's in anticipation of the whistleblower sitting down with the congressional intelligence committees.
But there are, of course, a lot of other breadcrumbs for investigators to follow. There are the dozen or so officials who listened in on the president's call with the Ukrainian leader. Lawmakers are going to want to talk to them. There are also the White House officials and lawyers who were allegedly involved in trying to move the transcript onto a secret computer system. And then there are, of course, the big names mentioned in the complaint and in the phone call, chief among them Attorney General William Barr and the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
KING: Given all of the breadcrumbs, can you take a guess at how quickly this impeachment inquiry might actually move?
LUCAS: Well, it's hard to anticipate how this will all play out. As you said, this has moved very quickly over the past week. I don't think that we're going to see this sort of pace keep up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that House Democrats are going to focus on this Ukraine matter in their impeachment inquiry. But, look, Democrats know that the clock is ticking on this. They know that the presidential campaign is getting underway, so they do want to move quickly.
KING: All right, NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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Correction Sept. 27, 2019
A previous version of the Web introduction for this story incorrectly said the whistleblower complaint has to do with President Bush. It should have said President Trump.