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House Panel Wants More Details On Whistleblower Complaint Against Trump

NOEL KING, HOST:

A complaint by a whistleblower has raised questions about President Trump's dealings with an unidentified foreign leader. We don't know who the whistleblower is, but the intelligence community's inspector general found the complaint troubling enough to bring it to Congress. And then over several hours before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, the inspector general refused to provide any details. Here's House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff talking to NPR's Audie Cornish.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ADAM SCHIFF: The whistleblower complaint, according to the inspector general, contains credible evidence of wrongdoing.

KING: Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California is a member of that committee. She was briefed on this yesterday, and she's with us now. Congresswoman, good morning.

JACKIE SPEIER: Good morning, Noel, great to be with you.

KING: Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who fielded this whistleblower's complaint, testified in private to your committee yesterday. What can you tell us about the contents of this complaint?

SPEIER: Well, I don't have any information about the contents of the complaint. What I can tell you is that the inspector general believed it to be credible after doing a seven-day review. And more importantly, he found it to be urgent. He has been the inspector general, appointed by President Trump, for 15 months. In all of his workings with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, where he has sent over complaints by whistleblowers, not one of them reached the urgency classification. So this is a very troubling set of circumstances, particularly since the law says that the director of the National Intelligence Center will - shall - the word is shall - transfer a complaint that is found to be credible and urgent to the committees. The DNI chose not to do that.

KING: This raises a very important question. Isn't inspector General Atkinson breaking the law by not telling Congress what is in the complaint?

SPEIER: Well, no, he is not breaking the law because it's the director of the National Intelligence that is supposed to transfer that whistleblower complaint. But he is, you know, stepping out to the extent that he is challenging the director of National Intelligence. The director of National Intelligence, who is an acting person right now, then went to the attorney general, which is not required nor appropriate under the law to do so. But he did. And then the attorney general came up with the opinion that said that this really doesn't deal with someone within the intelligence community, which, of course, raises red flags that maybe it is in fact the president. But it does deal with issues surrounding national security and therefore should be sent to these various committees.

What's most important is that we are having a situation here that's going to absolutely squish the whistleblower statute. So no one will feel that they can come forward and be protected because this whistleblower now is in serious sense of being reprised against or losing his or her job.

KING: You're saying the whistleblower might have quite a bit to fear here given everything that's gone on. Let me ask you - acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, as you've said, appears to be blocking the inspector general from saying anything. Maguire is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee next Thursday. What do you want to know from him?

SPEIER: From - well, he will be testifying in open session, which is very good. What I want to know from him is how does he feel he could violate the law with impunity? And this is such a travesty. And it deals with something so critical to our national security. We can't let it stand.

KING: Chairman Schiff has threatened to sue the administration for answers regarding this complaint. Do you think a broader investigation is coming just briefly?

SPEIER: Oh, without doubt I do. And I do think we should file for what's called inherent contempt and have these people fined for not complying with the law.

KING: OK, Representative Jackie Speier of California, thank you so much for joining us.

SPEIER: Great to be with you, Noel.

KING: I want to bring in NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: OK, so big question for you. This is a very complicated scenario. How unusual is it?

MYRE: Extremely so. I spoke with a number of lawyers who've defended whistleblowers literally for decades. They note that members of the intelligence community come forward occasionally, but not that often. They have a law specifically protecting them. But they said still, this is a highly unusual case. They don't recall any case like this before where you have an intelligence community member filing a whistleblower complaint against a sitting president.

KING: And as the congresswoman pointed out, there is obviously going to be a lot of legal action going forward, right?

MYRE: Right. We certainly expect that. With - you know, any number of things could happen. Leaks could certainly be part of this. We should note that there is no formal requirement that this complaint or its content become public. Now it's supposed to go on to Congress, but it could be handled privately by the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session. There's no legal requirement that it has to somehow come out and be public. It is supposed to be addressed. So that's the important issue.

But I think that we're going to have a combination of reporting - we've got more hearings set - potential legal action. And even the White House itself is addressing it to some extent. President Trump tweeted about it yesterday. His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani went on CNN last night and talked about it. So I think one way or another, we're going to hear a lot about it. It's just not quite clear what that format might be.

KING: OK. NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks so much for your time.

MYRE: Sure thing. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.