- Trumpworld flew into a frenzy after The New York Times published a story revealing that a CIA officer who filed a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump approached a House Intelligence Committee aide with their concerns before filing the complaint.
- Trump and his allies made a number of unsubstantiated claims based on the story.
- They alleged that the whistleblower potentially broke the law by going to Congress before filing the complaint; that the committee’s Democratic chairman had early access to all the whistleblower’s allegations; and that the chairman collaborated with the whistleblower to draft the complaint.
- None of the claims withstand scrutiny. National security experts told Insider it’s common and legal for whistleblowers to do what the CIA officer did, and that there are multiple paths available for whistleblowers to convey their concerns.
- House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff only knew of the “broad outlines” of the whistleblower’s allegations from the committee aide. And he couldn’t have helped draft it because the whistleblower only gave the aide a “vague” characterization of their concerns.
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Trumpworld seized on a New York Times story Wednesday that revealed a CIA officer who filed a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump approached a House Intelligence Committee aide with their concerns before filing the complaint.
The official initially conveyed their concerns to the CIA’s top lawyer through a colleague, The Times reported, but they decided to go to the committee aide because they were worried about the way the agency was handling the matter.
After the whistleblower approached the aide, the latter followed committee procedure and told the whistleblower to hire a lawyer and file a complaint through the intelligence community inspector general and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which they ultimately did.
As far as the president and his allies were concerned, these revelations confirmed their worst fears.
“This is a stunning indictment of this impeachment charade,” tweeted Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff] got a heads up on all this. His team then advised the ‘whistleblower’ how to proceed, like getting a Clinton/Schumer lawyer who donated to Biden. Who’s colluding now?”
“The Fix Was In,” declared White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
“This is the pure definition of corruption,” tweeted Eric Trump. “Did [Schiff] write or influence the letter?”
Donald Trump Jr. struck a similar tone: “Now the NYT story confirms even more of what we already know about sleaze bag Adam #FullOfSchiff. I figured I’d re-up my tweet from yesterday. Who would have guessed he was in on another hoax all along? That this joker can keep his job is a disgrace.”
The president himself chimed in as well, tweeting in all caps, “SCHIFF IS A FRAUD!”
Broadly, Trump and his loyalists’ criticisms in the wake of The Times story fall into three categories:
- The whistleblower acted improperly, and potentially violated the law, by going to the intelligence committee before filing the complaint.
- Schiff had early access to all the whistleblower’s allegations.
- Schiff worked with the whistleblower to draft the complaint.
None of these claims hold up.
One of the reporters who wrote The Times story noted on Twitter that despite Trump’s claims, the outlet “did NOT report that Adam Schiff helped write the whistleblower’s complaint. In fact, Schiff did not even know the whistleblower’s identity, officials told the NYT.”
“There’s no evidence Schiff wrote any part of the complaint, and his spokesman said he saw no part of it before it was filed,” the report said.
Moreover, the whistleblower did not present the committee aide or the CIA with the full details of their allegations. In both cases, The Times reported, “the accusation was vague.”
And Schiff only knew of the “broad outlines” of the official’s allegations when the committee aide conveyed them to the California congressman after advising the whistleblower about how to proceed.
It’s common – and legal – for whistleblowers to do what the CIA officer did
National security experts told Insider the claim that the whistleblower broke the rules or violated the law when they approached the aide doesn’t hold water.
“In my experience, it’s more than common for potential whistleblowers to contact the congressional intelligence committees directly in order to obtain guidance on the proper way to disclose wrongdoing,” Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst at the Government Accountability Project who specialises in intelligence community and military whistleblowing, told Insider.
The process the CIA officer went through doesn’t appear to be out of the ordinary; NBC News reported that the intelligence committees typically get two to three complaints a month and tell all the complainants to “go through the IG process.”
Whistleblowers can take several paths to report their concerns
Still, Trump allies continued suggesting the whistleblower broke federal law when they raised their concerns with the House Intelligence Committee. They pointed, in particular, to a federal statute that says a whistleblower can go directly to Congress, but only after getting the appropriate guidance from the inspector general and director of national intelligence.
The law in question is called the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA).
Kel McClanahan, a national security lawyer and executive director of the law firm National Security Counselors in Washington, DC, told Insider that while this is “the only path that is explicitly described in the statute, it is not the only path that exists” for whistleblowers.
The law “is prescriptive, not prohibitive,” McClanahan said. “It says, ‘here is a path you can use,’ it does not say, ‘this is the only path available to you.'”
In other words, an intelligence community official can communicate their concerns to Congress without consulting the IG or DNI, but that means they may not be be covered by the whistleblower protections outlined in the ICWPA.
The law also stipulates that the DNI “shall” transmit complaints that are deemed to be “of urgent concern” to congressional intelligence committees.
The law essentially said, “look, we’re not going to give whistleblower protections to intelligence community whistleblowers, but we are going to reassure them that if they go through this path, the head of their agencies shall pass the complaint on to Congress,” McClanahan said.
McCullough noted, moreover, that all federal employees have the right to freely communicate with Congress under the Lloyd-La Follette Act of 1912. The statute allows Congress to obtain uncensored, essential information from any federal employee.
As it relates to intelligence professionals, experts say there could be complications stemming from the classification level of the information they’re conveying. But the CIA whistleblower appears to have a firm grasp of both the law and how to handle classified information, in large part because of their day job.
Much of the complaint, which was released to the public last week, is unclassified. It also includes a top-secret appendix, which indicates the official knows how to classify information and how to practice proper tradecraft.
“You have a whistleblower who clearly understands how to handle classified information,” McClanahan said. “And you have a news article that confirms the whistleblower only gave the aide and the CIA a vague account of what happened. I would have no problem telling a client they could do the same thing, or doing it myself.”