A couple days ago, we highlighted the need to “watch this story,” as this wasn’t a “normal” Trump scandal. This involved an “urgent” security matter that the Inspector General, one appointed by Trump, believed needed to be set before congress, quickly.
As you likely know, the Washington Post reports today that the I.G. will be testifying behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee. The Post also reports that the matter involves Trump making a “promise” to a foreign leader. The by-line has three reporters, generally taken to mean they each have a source contributing to the story. This one feels quite big.
Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed. It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information and may further strain his relationship with U.S. spy agencies. One former official said the communication was a phone call.
The first thing to note is that the president is allowed to both declassify material, and also negotiate foreign policy deals. In other words, in the normal course of events, if Trump handed over classified information to a foreign leader, with a promise that the U.S. would act, it would not be something that would constitute a credible and urgent matter deserving a whistleblower complaint – in the normal course of events. Something about this particular “phone call” took it out of the normal course of events.
The issue, whatever else it is, must be something touching upon an abuse of power. We come full circle back-around to it being credible and urgent.
The White House declined to comment. Note, the White House did not deny any element of the complaint, make of that what you will. It may be that the White House is awaiting to see the blowback forthcoming from “whatever it is.” We also know that neither the Inspector General, nor an attorney working for the whistleblower himself, wanted to comment. Note, the whistleblower has an attorney already, an attorney already identified to the Washington Post. The whistleblower likely anticipates pressure, or denials, from the White House, having his reputation smeared, something requiring a lawyer disclosed to the press.
The following, all speculation, discusses possible issues that fit the timeline of the complaint, and what it might entail:
Among them was a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the White House initiated on July 31. Trump also received at least two letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the summer, describing them as “beautiful” messages. In June, Trump said publicly that he was opposed to certain CIA spying operations against North Korea. Referring to a Wall Street Journal report that the agency had recruited Kim’s half-brother, Trump said, “I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices.”
I don’t believe for a second that Kim Jong Un could offer something to Trump that would be worthy of a Trump “promise” constituting an abuse of power. Right now, my money is on Trump promising Putin to pull out the U.S. asset from the Kremlin, in exchange for something Putin could grant Trump, perhaps help in the election. That is nothing more than my speculation. But I find it odd that Trump would publicly address his disdain for spies in other countries, as something that wouldn’t happen under his “auspices.” He said it referencing North Korea, when I believe his target might have been Putin.
The more interesting question becomes – as always – the cover-up. And here, the subject of the promise becomes near irrelevant. The cover-up itself was illegal, as we noted this last Sunday. Right now, the only two people in Washington more nervous than Trump are Acting DNI Maguire, and the Attorney General, William Barr. Trump at least has plausible cover in his ability to “declassify” and “speak for the country,” the other two have clearly broken the law in an attempt to suppress the matter. From my view, it looks to me like William Barr is the one most exposed, and could – could – face criminal charges arising out of this matter.
We do not want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it is possible that this issue might well result in impeachment of all three.