In tense testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) on Friday, the inspector general for federal spy agencies refused to disclose why his office backdated secret changes to key whistleblower forms and rules in the wake of an anti-Trump whistleblower complaint filed in August, sources told The Federalist.
As The Federalist reported and the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) confirmed, the spy watchdog secretly changed its whistleblower forms and internal rules in September to eliminate a requirement that whistleblowers provide first-hand evidence to support any allegations of wrongdoing. In a press release last week, the ICIG confessed that it changed its rules in response to an anti-Trump complaint filed on August 12. That complaint, which was declassified and released by President Donald Trump in September, was based entirely on second-hand information, much of which was shown to be false following the declassification and release of a telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, told HPSCI lawmakers during a committee oversight hearing on Friday that the whistleblower forms and rules changes were made in September, even though the new forms and guidance, which were not uploaded to the ICIG’s website until September 24, state that they were changed in August. Despite having a full week to come up with explanations for his office’s decisions to secretly change its forms to eliminate the requirement for first-hand evidence and to backdate those changes to August, Atkinson refused to provide any explanation to lawmakers baffled by his behavior.
When pressed on the curious changes and attempts to obscure the timeline of his revisions, Atkinson refused to explain why the forms were backdated to August even though they were not made until September. The ICIG previously stated that it changed its forms and guidance “in response to recent press inquiries regarding” the anti-Trump complaint, of which Congress was not even notified until the second week of September. The new forms, which were not uploaded to the ICIG website until September 24, nonetheless stated that the revisions were made back in August.
Lawmakers honed in on the discrepancy during Atkinson’s appearance on Capitol Hill on Friday. How could the forms have been changed back in August if they were changed in response to press inquiries that could not have been made until mid-September at the earliest?
“[T]he timing of the removal of the first-hand information requirement raises questions about potential connections to this whistleblower’s complaint,” three House Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to Atkinson on September 30. “This timing, along with numerous apparent leaks of classified information about the contents of this complaint, also raise questions about potential criminality in the handling of these matters.”
In an interview with Fox News, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the top Republican on HPSCI, intimated the secret changes to eliminate the requirement for first-hand information were intentionally made to accommodate the anti-Trump complainant, who offered no first-hand evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
“This guideline, they changed it because of this whistleblower,” Nunes, who said on Fox News last week. “[Atkinson] admits it in his own press release.”
Several top lawmakers in the Senate raised similar concerns about Atkinson’s behavior in a separate letter.
“Why did the IC IG initially require first-hand information in its May 2018 disclosure form?” the senators asked. “Why did the IC IG remove the requirement for first-hand information?”
Atkinson has not answered their questions, either, raising questions that his behavior following his receipt of the anti-Trump complaint might not be completely above board. Atkinson ignored legal guidance from both the director of national intelligence and the Department of Justice that the anti-Trump complaint was statutorily deficient and forwarded it to HPSCI even though it did not meet the legal definition of an “urgent concern” that is required to be given to Congress.
The embattled ICIG also admitted on Friday that the anti-Trump complainant lied on his whistleblower complaint form by concealing the complainant’s previous secret interactions with House Democratic staff prior to submitting the complaint. Atkinson never even bothered investigating potential coordination between the complainant, whom DOJ said showed evidence of partisan political bias, and House Democrats prior to the filing of the anti-Trump complaint.