A whistleblower complaint, declassified and released just minutes before the acting Director of National intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire is to testify before a congressional committee, alleged, among other things, that senior White House officials obfuscated communications between the president and the president of Ukraine by moving records of the call to a separate computer network intended to house classified information.
The whistleblower learned that “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lockdown’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced -as is customary - by the White House Situation Room.”
The direction to remove the transcript from the system where transcripts are typically stored came from White House lawyers, the complaint said. “Instead the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature,” the whistleblower wrote, claiming that the administration understood the impropriety of what was being done. “One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.”
An appendix to the complaint said it was not the first time a record was placed in that system, not because of its security sensitivity but rather because of its political sensitivity.
Maguire faces questions from the House Intelligence Committee over the complaint and his refusal to pass it on to Congress as required by law.
The acting DNI took considerable heat for first contacting the White House regarding the complaint since the president was the subject of myriad allegations. But Maguire defended his actions, noting that the substance of the missive included potentially privileged communications between the president and another diplomat. Likewise, he sought guidance from the Justice Department’s legal arm, although Attorney General Barr was mentioned in both the complaint and the subsequent transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky.
Lawmakers grilled Maguire not only on the process followed when the complaint came to light but also pressed him if the accusations it enumerated – that Trump asked Zelensky for dirt on Biden and that officials hid records in a secret server – sparked broader concerns within the intelligence community.
Saying he didn’t disagree with Inspector General Michael Atkinson’s assessment that the whistleblower was credible, Maguire demurred when questioned about whether the allegations revealed a possible coverup by the White House or raised questions about election security, which he had previously said was a top priority for his office.
"The complaint isn't about election interference," said Maguire, although the whistleblower specifically expresses concern that Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D.-Calif., pointedly asked the acting DNI if moving records to a “secret system” constituted a matter that the intelligence community should investigate.
More than one lawmaker recalled FBI Director Christopher Wray’s admonishment earlier in the year that any potential election interference should be reported to the FBI and Trump’s declaration to George Stephanopoulos that he would listen to any dirt offered to him and may or may not report it.
“It’s not an interference. They have information, I think I’d take it,” Trump said at the time.
The committee also probed the role of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in persuading Ukraine to investigate Biden with Maguire admitting that he didn’t know if Giuliani had security clearance.