Senate Intel Pushes For Interview With Whistleblower In Ukraine Scandal

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Burr says the committee has interviewed more than 100 witnesses as part of its investigation and that more work still needs to be done.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,... Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., left, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., update reporters on the status of their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Burr says the committee has interviewed more than 100 witnesses as part of its investigation and that more work still needs to be done. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) MORE LESS
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September 24, 2019 3:02 pm
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The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing to secure an interview with the mysterious whistleblower who came forward last month with allegations that reportedly relate to President Trump pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

According to a Tuesday letter reported by Yahoo News, the Senate panel is asking for a “closed, bipartisan interview” with the whistleblower by staff counsel this Friday.

Separately, House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Tuesday that his panel had been told by the whistleblower’s attorney that the tipster “would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI as to how to do so.”

Andrew Bakaj, a lawyer representing the whistleblower, did not immediately return a request for comment. The committee’s letter referenced a separate not-yet-released letter that Bakaj sent earlier on Tuesday to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

The ball has remained in Maguire’s court since last week with respect to fulfilling a statutory obligation that the DNI must provide intelligence community whistleblowers with guidance on how to report directly to Congress without compromising sensitive information.

Senate intel has kept a low profile over the past week as the House Intelligence Committee under Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has aggressively fought the administration over a secret intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint believed to be highly damaging to Trump.

Apart from the private interview with the whistleblower, Senate intel has scheduled closed door meetings with both acting DNI McGuire and intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson on Thursday. McGuire will testify publicly Thursday morning before the House.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said Tuesday that he does not expect to see the whistleblower complaint itself during the briefing with the DNI officials. He told reporters Tuesday that “understanding the facts” was the goal of the closed-door hearing. Asked if the administration officials would be providing information about the substance of the complaint, Burr said “ask them.”

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told reporters on Tuesday that “the lawyer for the whistleblower has reached out for a counsel meeting. But again, we’re going to take this one step at a time, and I think it’s terribly important to get the facts.”

Several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee — including some Republicans — said Tuesday that they wanted to hear more about substance of whistleblower’s complaint.

For months, Trump and his allies have been engaged in a campaign to pressure Ukrainian officials to gin up an investigation of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who may ultimately face Trump in the 2020 election.

The whistleblower complaint – and subsequent Trump admissions that he too participated in the effort —  has ignited a firestorm over whether Congress will hold the President accountable for efforts to secure foreign help in winning elections. Escalating the fight was the administration’s move to block IG Atkinson from turning the complaint over to Congress, which Atkinson claims he was required to do by law.

The dispute has enveloped Washington, fueled the impeachment push among House Democrats, and has put Senate Republicans on the spot on how far they’ll turn their blind eye towards the allegations, which include questions as to whether Trump personally withheld military aid from Ukraine to force a Biden investigation.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he would try to force a vote on a resolution calling for the complaint to be transmitted to the House and Senate intel panels.  In response, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Schumer and Schiff  of politicizing Congress’ work in the intelligence space.

Some Senate Republicans have been more open about their desire to see information about the alleged underlying conduct.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters that he would need to see the whistleblower’s complaint to have the relevant facts.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who doesn’t sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the production of the complaint to intel committees “would be very helpful.” When Romney previously expressed concerns about the possibility that Trump pressured Ukraine on Biden, Trump tweeted a video mocking Romney for losing the 2012 presidential election.

“Oh, no. I’d forgotten I’d lost and so I appreciate the reminder,” Romney said with a smile Tuesday when asked about the tweet.

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