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Administration blocks ‘urgent’ whistleblower disclosure

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration plunged into an extraordinary showdown with Congress Thursday over access to a whistleblower’s reported complaint about incidents including a private conversation between President Donald Trump and a foreign leader. The blocked complaint is both “serious” and “urgent,” the government’s intelligence watchdog said.

The administration is keeping Congress from even learning what exactly the whistleblower is alleging, but the intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership. One report said it involved a promise Trump made in a phone call to a foreign leader. A lawmaker said the complaint was “based on a series of events.”

The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s allies are protecting the president from oversight and, specifically, if his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress.

Trump, though giving no details about any incident, denied Thursday that he would ever “say something inappropriate” on such a call.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was prepared to go to court to try to force the Trump administration to open up about the complaint.

“The inspector general has said this cannot wait,” said Schiff, describing the administration’s blockade as an unprecedented departure from law. “There’s an urgency here that I think the courts will recognize.”

The Washington Post reported the complaint involves an intelligence official’s allegation that Trump made a promise to an unidentified foreign leader in a telephone call. The Post cited two anonymous former U.S. officials.

The Associated Press has not confirmed the report.

Schiff said he, too, could not confirm whether the Post report was accurate because the administration was claiming executive privilege in withholding the complaint. But letters from the inspector general to the committee released Thursday said it was an “urgent” matter of “serious or flagrant abuse” that must be shared with lawmakers.

The letters also made it clear that Trump’s new acting director of national intelligence, Maguire, consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.

Because the administration is claiming the information is privileged, Schiff said he believes the whistleblower’s complaint “likely involves the president or people around him.”

Trump dismissed it all.

“Another Fake News story out there – It never ends!” Trump tweeted. “Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!”

He asked: “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.”

House Democrats are fighting the administration separately for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. This new situation has led to their public concerns that government intelligence agencies and the recently named acting director might be under pressure to withhold information from Congress.

Trump tapped Maguire, a former Navy official, as acting intelligence director in August, after the departure of Director Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who often clashed with the president, and the retirement of Sue Gordon, a career professional in the No. 2 position.

Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Both Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, are also expected next week at the Senate intelligence committee.

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released Thursday that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress.