On Monday, the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) admitted that it did alter its forms and policies governing whistleblower complaints, and that it did so in response to the anti-Trump complaint filed on Aug. 12, 2019. The Federalist first reported the sudden changes last Friday. While many in the media falsely claimed the ICIG’s stunning admission debunked The Federalist’s report, the admission from the ICIG completely affirmed the reporting on the secretive change to whistleblower rules following the filing of an anti-Trump complaint in August.
The ICIG also disclosed for the first time that the anti-Trump complainant filed his complaint using the previously authorized form, the guidance for which explicitly stated the ICIG’s previous requirement for firsthand evidence for credible complaints. The Federalist reported last week that it was not known which form, if any, the complainant used, as the complaint that was declassified and released to the public last week was written as a letter to the two chairmen of the congressional intelligence committees.
Under the law governing whistleblower complaints for members of the intelligence community, the inspector general has near-total authority to determine whether a complaint is credible or not. The law is silent on what type of evidence is required and leaves that decision entirely to the discretion of the inspector general. As a result, the internal policies set by the ICIG’s office are the regulatory rules governing the examination of whistleblower complaints. Because of this wide discretion granted under the law, the ICIG’s internal changes to its own policies and guidance regarding firsthand evidence — which the ICIG admitted to in its press release on Monday — directly impacted its treatment of the anti-Trump complaint filed in August.
In its press release, the ICIG also explicitly admitted it changed its policies because of the anti-Trump complaint, raising significant questions about whether the watchdog cooked its own books to justify its treatment of the anti-Trump complaint:
In the process of reviewing and clarifying those forms, and in response to recent press inquiries regarding the instant whistleblower complaint, the ICIG understood that certain language in those forms and, more specifically, the informational materials accompanying the forms, could be read — incorrectly — as suggesting that whistleblowers must possess first-hand information in order to file an urgent concern complaint with the congressional intelligence committees.
The ICIG’s claim that it would have been incorrect to perceive a requirement for firsthand information is bizarre considering the previous version of the form clearly stated in unambiguous language that firsthand evidence was required in order for “urgent concern” whistleblower complaints to be deemed credible. It said, in bold, underlined, all-caps text, “FIRST-HAND INFORMATION REQUIRED”:
Because the complaint did not allege wrongdoing against a member of the intelligence community (the president of the United States is an elected constitutional officer, not an employee of a statutory agency), did not allege wrongdoing with regard to an intelligence activity (a phone call between two elected world leaders is basic diplomacy, not the execution of a statutorily required intelligence activity), and relied primarily on hearsay rather than firsthand evidence, both the director of national intelligence (DNI) and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel determined that the anti-Trump complaint was not an “urgent concern” under the law and was therefore not required to be transmitted to the relevant congressional committees. In spite of those determinations, the ICIG on its own and after revising its internal guidance and policies regarding firsthand evidence decided the complaint did qualify as an “urgent concern” and forwarded the anti-Trump complaint to Congress.
The ICIG did not inform the DNI of the existence of the anti-Trump complaint until Aug. 26 and did not inform Congress of the complaint until Sept. 9. On Sept. 13, the DNI informed Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, that the complaint did not meet the statutory definition of an “urgent concern” and would therefore not be shared with Congress. The complaint was formally declassified by the president for release to the public on Sept. 25.
This timeline raises significant questions about the rationale for the rule changes by the ICIG, as it would be improbable, except in the case of illegal classified leaks, for the press to have inquired about the anti-Trump complaint in August, when the revisions to the forms and policies were claimed to have been formally made, according to markings on the new whistleblower forms which claim they were revised in August of 2019. While the previous forms requiring firsthand evidence show they were approved on May 24, 2018, the new forms do not disclose the specific date of the revision. If the ICIG did not inform the congressional committees of the particular whistleblower complaint until Sept. 9 and did not transmit the letter until Sept. 13, how could any members of the media have inquired back in August about the specific anti-Trump complaint or its relation to the previous requirement for firsthand information in whistleblower complaints?
The ICIG in its press release also failed to disclose when precisely its whistleblower forms and rules were changed, despite top lawmakers on oversight committees in both chambers specifically requesting that information. The specific date of the changes to internal evidentiary requirements is essential to determining whether the ICIG changed its own policies and procedures to justify forwarding to Congress a complaint that under the previous standard may not have been deemed credible.
The president’s release of the transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed that numerous allegations within the complaint filed with the ICIG were false. For example, the complainant falsely alleged that Trump demanded Zelensky return multiple servers from CrowdStrike, an IT contractor for the Democratic National Committee, that were physically located in Ukraine. Trump made no such demand. The complainant also alleged that Trump urged Zelensky to either hire or retain a particular government prosecutor in Ukraine. That exchange never happened. Additionally, the complainant alleged that a specific State Department official had listened in on the phone call between the two leaders. The State Department stated last week that particular official did not listen in on the phone call.
The anti-Trump complaint that was released last week, which congressional Democrats are using as the basis for impeachment proceedings against the president, is riddled not with evidence directly viewed by the complainant, but repeated references to what anonymous officials allegedly told the complainant: “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials,” “officials have informed me,” “officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me,” “the White House officials who told me this information,” “I was told by White House officials,” “the officials I spoke with,” “I was told that a State Department official,” “I learned from multiple U.S. officials,” “One White House official described this act,” “Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me,” “I also learned from multiple U.S. officials,” “The U.S. officials characterized this meeting,” “multiple U.S. officials told me,” “I learned from U.S. officials,” “I also learned from a U.S. official,” “several U.S. officials told me,” “I heard from multiple U.S. officials,” and “multiple U.S. officials told me.”
In fact, the ICIG admitted in its Aug. 26 letter to the DNI that its office never even reviewed the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky prior to determining whether the complainants hearsay allegations about the phone call were credible.
“As part of its preliminary review, the ICIG did not request access to records of the President’s July 25, 2019, call with the Ukrainian President,” Michael Atkinson, the ICIG, wrote.
“I decided that access to records of the telephone call was not necessary to make my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears credible,’” he stated.
Although the ICIG stated in its Monday press release that the complainant claimed on his whistleblower form to be in possession of firsthand evidence of criminality by Trump, the complaint released to the public contains no such firsthand evidence. A congressional official told The Federalist on Monday that the House Intelligence Committee has not received the underlying whistleblower complaint form submitted by the anti-Trump complainant.
Michael Atkinson, the ICIG, is slated to testify under oath before the House Intelligence Committee later this week.