Whistleblower alleges White House coverup

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Amanda Wills, Mike Hayes and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:37 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019
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11:47 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Lewandowski may lead White House impeachment team

From CNN's Dana Bash, Kaitlan Collins, Vicky Ward and Kevin Liptak

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Corey Lewandowski, the political operative who helped elect President Trump, has had conversations with White House officials in recent days about potentially taking a position inside the administration to help Trump confront a looming impeachment fight.

The discussions, including a Thursday afternoon meeting at the White House, reflect the growing recognition among Trump’s allies and advisers that he is without a clear strategy for managing the crisis, which exploded in stunning fashion this week.

Trump's 2016 campaign manager would be in a crisis management type role, and the idea as it currently stands would be for Lewandowski to assemble a team that mirrors the one that existed in Bill Clinton’s White House when he was facing his own impeachment. 

The list of potential players on the team includes David Bossie, his former deputy campaign manager who angered the President earlier this year by soliciting funds using Trump’s name. Bossie served as the chief investigator of the House Oversight Committee in 1997, helping scrutinize Clinton.

The team would be to help spearhead strategy and messaging as the House of Representative’s impeachment probe heats up. The role could also exist outside the White House, and many of the details of the arrangement are still unclear.

11:48 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Spy chief: "No one, none of us, is above the law"

THE HEARING/ From CNN's Aishvarya Kavi 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff pushed back on Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s declaration that the focus of the complaint was “not election security.” 

“You're not suggesting, are you, that the President is somehow immune from the laws that preclude a US person from seeking foreign help in a US election, are you?” Schiff asked.

“What I am saying, chairman Schiff, is that no one, none of us, is above the law in this country,” Maguire said.

Here's how the exchange went down: 

Schiff: And if that conversation involved the President requesting help in the form of intervention in our election, is that not an issue of interference in our election? 

Maguire: Chairman, once again, this was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into– 

Schiff: I understand that, but you're not suggesting, are you, that the President is somehow immune from the laws that preclude a US person from seeking foreign help in a US election, are you? 

Maguire: What I am saying, Chairman Schiff, is that no one, none of us, is above the law in this country.

11:28 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

You keep hearing about Michael Atkinson. Here's what you should know about him.

BEHIND THE HEARING

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Office of the Director of National Intelligence

A Trump appointee has found himself mired in the center of the controversy surrounding the whistleblower complaint about Trump and Ukraine. Here's what you need to know about Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.

Who is Atkinson?

Appointed as IC IG by Trump in 2018, Atkinson's long-standing reputation as a straight-shooter with professional integrity has bolstered the legitimacy of the whistleblower complaint despite the President's attempts to paint it as a partisan attack, multiple sources have told CNN.

Why is the IC IG an important player here?

At the end of August, two weeks after Atkinson received the whistleblower's complaint about Trump's July phone call, he notified his superior, the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Atkinson believed it to be a credible complaint and found it worthy to be handled by the intelligence community and referred to Congress under the law.

But instead of routing to Congress, the whistleblower's allegation wound its way across the Justice Department.

How Atkinson dealt with the Department of Justice

Atkinson, who had first heard from the whistleblower, also referred the matter to the Justice Department.

That notification — along with communications from Maguire to Justice's Office of Legal Counsel — kicked off the DOJ's probe of whether there was a possible violation of a campaign finance criminal statute.

Justice's Criminal Division took the lead. Prosecutors obtained the summary transcript of the call from the White House, and prosecutors confirmed with knowledgeable people at the White House that the five-page document was the best evidence available, according to the officials. They did not interview any to gather more facts.

On the day after Labor Day, the Office of Legal Counsel had its answer for Maguire. The whistleblower's complaint shouldn't be considered of "urgent concern" and require disclosure to Congress, Steven Engel, the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel wrote.

Maguire is defending Atkinson today

During his testimony before the House Intel Committee, the acting spy chief said he believes everything that Atkinson did was lawful and said he intends to ensure that Atkinson can continue "to be able to do his job unfettered."

11:22 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Protecting US elections is intel's "greatest challenge," acting spy chief says

THE HEARING

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire just said intelligence officials' most important job is protecting US elections.

"I think that the greatest challenge that we face is not necessarily, you know, from a strike with Russia or China or Iran or North Korea," he said. "I think the greatest challenge that we do have is to make sure that we maintain the integrity of our election system."

Maguire added that "we know there are foreign powers trying to get us to question the validity" of our elections.

"So first and foremost, I think protecting the sanctity of our elections, whether it be national, city, state and local is perhaps the most important job we have with the intelligence community," he said.

11:29 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Rudy Giuliani: I have "no knowledge of any of that crap" in whistleblower's complaint

TRUMP ADMIN REACTION / From CNN's Michael Warren

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Speaking to CNN from his room at the Trump International Hotel, Rudy Giuliani said he has "no knowledge of any of that crap" in the newly released complaint from an American intelligence community whistleblower. 

Asked this morning about details from the complaint that multiple US officials were “deeply concerned” about Giuliani’s activities speaking with Ukrainian officials and nationals, Giuliani called the charge “total nonsense.” 

Giuliani refuted claims included in the complaint that two State Department officials had spoken to him to “contain the damage” he was doing to US national security interests regarding his work with Ukraine. “

At no time did either one of them say they wanted to contain damage,” Giuliani told CNN. “At no time did the State Department in communication with me ever relay any of that information you’re talking about.”

Giuliani also said he had a “nice little trail” of text message conversations with the top US diplomat to Ukraine, Karl Volker, to prove his story.

“I spoke to the State Department during the course of this situation, I told you, at least 10 times, and I met with them,” Giuliani said.
11:17 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Pelosi on whistleblower complaint: "This is a cover up"

ON CAPITOL HILL / From CNN's Clare Foran

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi read aloud parts of the public whistleblower complaint during her weekly presser:

"The complaint states that the White House tried to lock down all records of the call, especially the word for word transcript. That gave the whistleblower reason to believe that they, the White House, understood the gravity of what transpired in that call. The complaint reports a quote, repeated abuse of an electronics record system designed to store classified, sensitive national security information which the White House used to hide information of a political nature."

 

"This is a cover up," Pelosi said. "This is a cover up."

11:15 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Speaker Pelosi says "no rush to judgement" in impeachment inquiry

ON CAPITOL HILL / From CNN's Clare Foran

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said there is "no rush to judgement" when asked about how House will proceed with the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

She noted that some in the Democratic caucus want to rush into impeachment, but she added that it’s important to “have an inquiry to further establish the facts.”

Here's how she described it at her weekly news conference:

“We have to make a judgement in an inquiry as we go forward ... There are some in our caucus who think let’s just have an impeachment. No, we have to have an inquiry to further establish the facts. There is no rush to judgement and in some ways we are a jury, open to what might be exculpatory or not. But every day, the sadness grows because the disregard for our Constitution that the President has becomes more clear.”
11:13 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is holding a press conference

The House Speaker is talking to reporters now. We will post those key highlights here in moments.

11:11 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Here's what Republicans are calling out about the whistleblower's complaint

THE HEARING

Al Drago/Reuters
Al Drago/Reuters

Republicans are keying in to the fact that the whistleblower acknowledges he or she did not have first-hand knowledge of most of the events described.  

“I was not a direct witness to most of the events described,” the whistleblower wrote. 

The Intelligence Inspector General said he thought the claims were credible and that drove his push to provide Congress the details and refer the matter to the Justice Department for consideration of criminality.

But the public now has a way to test at least part of his claims: His description of the President’s phone call with the leader of Ukraine. By all appearances, his information was spot on. 

The description of the call comprises the first set of claims in the complaint and the whistleblower says he is aware of it because of “White House officials with direct knowledge of the call.”

The whistleblower then goes on to explain what transpired on the July 25 call in details that match up with the White House transcript released just yesterday. 

The whistleblowers' complaint — which was released publicly today — describes key parts of the call: The push to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, the allegations regarding Crowdstrike and the push to talk to Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.