This post first appeared on Sept. 24, 2019 on Dan Rather’s News & Guts.
On Thursday, Sept. 26, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is scheduled to testify publicly about his refusal to provide congressional intelligence committees with a whistleblower complaint.
The inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, has already found the complaint “urgent” and “credible.” He’s slated to testify in closed session on the same day.
By all accounts, the subject of the complaint is Donald Trump.
In a nationally televised interview on June 12, Trump said he’d take “dirt” on a political opponent from a foreign government to win an election. In fact, he was already using the power of the presidency to get that help. Now Trump is preventing Congress and the public from learning the truth about his potential use of American foreign policy for personal political gain. And he’s spinning the episode into attacks on his new targets: former Vice President Joe Biden and a whistleblower.
It’s that simple.
To follow the crisis, we’re adding a new name to the Trump-Russia Timeline filter: “UKRAINE/WHISTLEBLOWER 2019.” Here are the highlights so far:
- Aug. 13, 2018: Trump signs into law a bill authorizing $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, which requires US support to resist ongoing Russian aggression.
- May and June 2019: Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, meets with present and former Ukrainian officials. He’s looking for political “dirt” and wants them to pursue an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
- June 12: Trump tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he’d take foreign “dirt” on an opponent to help win an election.
- Days Prior to July 18: Trump orders a hold on the previously authorized military aid to Ukraine.
- July 25: Trump calls Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and pressures him to investigate Biden. He urges Zelensky to work with Giuliani.
- July 31: Trump calls Putin. The White House’s two-sentence readout says only that they discussed Siberian wildfires and trade.
- Aug. 12: A whistleblower from the intelligence community files a formal complaint that relates to Trump’s alleged commitment to another world leader and that, at least in part, concerns Ukraine.
- Aug. 21: Giuliani boasts that over the previous few weeks, he’s been meeting with Ukrainian officials and pushing them to investigate Biden’s son.
- Sept. 1-2: Vice President Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in Warsaw. The next day, reporters ask Pence whether he can assure Ukraine that Trump’s delay in military aid is unrelated to Giuliani’s efforts to get “dirt” on the Biden family. Rather than answer the question, Pence deflects: “[A]s President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption…”
- Sept. 9: Inspector General Atkinson informs House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) about the whistleblower complaint. After finding it “urgent” and “credible,” on Aug. 26, Atkinson sent it to acting DNI Maguire, who was required by law to transmit it to congressional intelligence committees within seven days. But he has failed to do so.
- Sept. 10: Schiff sends Maguire a letter asking for a copy of the complaint.
- Sept. 11: Trump releases the hold he’d placed on military aid to Ukraine.
- Sept. 13: Jason Klitenic, general counsel for the office of the director of national intelligence, tells Schiff that after consulting with Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice about how to handle the situation, Maguire will not produce the complaint. Klitenic’s stated legal justification would put Trump above the law. In a Sept. 17 letter to Schiff, Inspector General Atkinson disagrees with Klitenic’s argument, but is bound by Maguire’s decision to follow it.
- Sept. 15: Schiff tells CBS News that Maguire told him that he wasn’t providing the complaint “because he is being instructed not to. This involved a higher authority, someone above” the director of national intelligence, a cabinet position.
- Sept. 20: Sure enough, The Washington Post reports,“White House counsel Pat Cipollone has been engaged in the matter since shortly after the whistleblower action surfaced, officials said, helping to identify legal obstacles to the sharing of information that could be politically damaging to Trump.”
Trump Denies, Distracts, and Counterattacks
- Sept. 20: Trump asserts that he doesn’t know the whistleblower’s identity, but says that the person was “partisan.” He professes not to know what conversation the media were referring to, but claimed it was “beautiful” and “totally appropriate.”
- Sept. 21: In more than a dozen tweets and retweets, Trump attacks Biden and the whistleblower story.
- Sept. 22: Trump now admits that he spoke with Zelensky on July 25 about “all of the corruption taking place…the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption in the Ukraine [sic].”
- Sept. 23: Trump’s twitter attacks target the whistleblower:
- Sept. 24: Trump gives a new reason for having withheld military aid from Ukraine — “I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine” — and says he’d do it again.
This 30-second CNN video speaks for itself:
- Sept. 24: Trump promises to release a transcript of his July 25 phone call with Zelensky on Sept. 25.
Wholly apart from the White House track record of doctoring “official transcripts,” Trump’s offer is a distraction. By law, congressional intelligence committees must see the entire whistleblower report. The Timeline confirms that Trump’s dubious conduct involves far more than the Zelensky phone call. That’s the real story.