This story is about to get a whole lot more media scrutiny, because it involves secretive back-channel maneuvering, a possible threat to national security and potential lawbreaking at the highest levels of the Trump administration, possibly at the direction of President Trump himself — all with a whole lot of cloak-and-dagger intrigue thrown in.
And now the mystery of Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower has taken an ominous new turn, one that should only underscore concerns that serious — and dangerous — lawbreaking might be unfolding.
At the very least, we’re seeing yet another serious erosion in checks on this administration’s norm-shredding — and, as I hope to explain, there are big and important principles at stake here.
The latest development: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has informed Schiff, the California Democrat and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, that he will not forward a whistleblower’s complaint to the committee, as required by law.
Yet the legal rationale for refusing to do this appears specious — and raises further questions as to why this is happening at all.
This all started when Schiff announced that the Inspector General at the ODNI had alerted him to a whistleblower’s complaint that had been submitted to him. Schiff noted that the IG assessed the complaint as “credible.”
But as Schiff noted, the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has not forwarded the complaint to the Intelligence Committee.
There is a process for whistleblowers in such situations, one that has been established by federal law. A whistleblower must first submit a complaint to the IG, who determines whether it’s an “urgent concern” and “credible.” If so, the DNI “shall” forward the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.
The idea here is that this process allows a member of the intelligence community to raise concerns about potential lawbreaking or other abuses with Congress, so it can exercise oversight over those abuses, while ensuring that classified information remains protected. This is done via the independent inspector general at first, insulating the whistleblower against agency-head retaliation, which is also provided for in the statute.
In this case, Schiff announced, the inspector general notified the committee that this whistleblower’s complaint did constitute an urgent concern and is credible — yet Maguire still hadn’t forwarded the complaint and relevant associated materials to the committee.
So Schiff called on the DNI to forward the materials, and if he failed to do that, to appear before Congress on Thursday.
Now Maguire has sent a new letter to Schiff once again refusing to forward the complaint.