Trying To Fill In The Gaps In The DNI Whistleblower Scandal

Rep. Adam Schiff in May 2017. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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September 19, 2019 5:27 pm
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Even with new details on the whistleblower complaint that the DNI is withholding from Congress — namely, that it concerns “multiple acts” involving President Trump and a supposed commitment he made to a foreign leader — there is so much we don’t know.

But, a close look at the timeline of events narrows down the possibilities.

Josh Marshall wrote up a potential timeline of events today that provides a useful jumping off point from which to orient ourselves.

Before getting in to the litany of foreign leaders that may be the recipient of Trump’s “promise,” it’s worth looking at the timeline relative to recently departed Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Let’s go back to May. It was then that Trump delegated AG Bill Barr the authority to declassify documents that he received from the intelligence community, without any additional oversight or review.

Coats felt the need at the time to issue a carefully worded statement, saying that the intelligence community “continue” to share “apolitical intelligence” with the rest of the government.”

As time ground on, reporting suggested that Trump was deeply unhappy with Coats. He announced on July 28 that Coats would step down, and began the search for a replacement, announcing on Aug. 8 that Coats’s deputy Sue Gordon would also be departing.

The whistleblower filed the complaint four days later, on Aug. 12.

From there, things descended into apparent lawlessness, which I’ve written about over the past few days.

So, from the perspective of what the complaint is actually about, it’s really the weeks leading up to Aug. 12 that would matter the most. Trump was chomping at the bit to replace Coats and Gordon, who departed the government on Aug. 15.

Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson wrote of his concern about potential future retaliation against the whistleblower in letters released today, suggesting that the whistleblower may not have departed government yet.

Trump had discussions with a number of foreign leaders during the five weeks before the complaint was filed. The Washington Post, citing White House records, reported a list of five:

  • Qatari Emir Tammim Bin Hamad al Thani on July 9
  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on July 18
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 31
  • Multiple letters with North Korean premier Kim Jong-Un

Trump clearly has serious business with all of those leaders, in some cases involving quite delicate issues. Putin has drawn the most attention for obvious reasons, but alarming conversations could have taken place with any of the others.

But the list above is not comprehensive. Rather, it’s only a list of contacts between the President and foreign leaders that were announced publicly by the White House.

The most interesting phone call during the time period in question may be a July 25 conversation that Trump held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which the White House does not appear to have acknowledged at the time. The Ukrainian government, however, did provide a readout of the two leaders’ conversation.

I wrote about the phone call here, a couple of weeks ago.

To refresh your memory: Trump, through his attorney Rudy Giuliani, had allegedly been pressuring the Ukrainian government to juice up its investigations into Joe Biden’s son’s activities in Ukraine, and to conduct another probe that would discredit the prosecution of Paul Manafort.

Trump and Zelensky held a phone call on July 25. Let me draw your attention to the language that the Ukrainian side used in its readout:

Donald Trump expressed the conviction that the new Ukrainian authorities would be able to quickly improve Ukraine’s image, concluding the investigation of corruption cases that have stymied cooperation between Ukraine and the USA.

Over the next week, ending around Aug. 2, Giuliani spoke with members of Zelensky’s government, and met with one in Spain about the issue. At the same time this was happening, the Trump administration was withholding $250 million in security assistance to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress.

Atkinson felt compelled to inform Congress of the existence of the whistleblower complaint on Sept. 9 — the same day that the House Intelligence Committee opened an investigation into Giuliani pressuring the Ukrainian government into going after Biden while withholding security aid.

It’s totally unclear if this is the phone call and “multiple acts” that are supposedly alleged in the whistleblower’s complaint. Trump spoke with multiple leaders over that time period. There is far more that we do not know than we do know, and it’s worth keeping that in mind as new facts emerge on this story.

We’ll be following this story as it continues to develop, but I’ll leave you with Atkinson’s description of the substance of the complaint, as written in a Sept. 17 letter to Congress released today, emphasizing the seriousness with which he views its contents.

“I set forth the reasons for my concluding that the subject matter involved in the Complainant’s disclosure not only falls within the DNI’s jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”

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