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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12:05 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Fact check: Maguire’s rationale for not sending the whistleblower complaint to Congress within 7 days

THE HEARING / From CNN's Holmes Lybrand

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

During the hearing, Democratic members have pressed Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire on why he did not provide the whistleblower complaint to the committee within the seven-day period required by law.

As the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 states, if the Inspector General determines that the complaint is credible and of urgent concern then the DNI “shall, within 7 calendar days…forward such transmittal to the intelligence committees.”

The IG determined the complaint was credible on August 26. Yet Maguire didn’t provide it to Congress until Wednesday night, September 25 -- almost a month later.

Maguire claimed that because the complaint involved the President, he was required to work with the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine if there was content protected by executive privilege in the complaint.

"It appeared that it also had matters of executive privilege," Maguire told the committee.

On September 24, the OLC issued an opinion refuting the IG’s determination that the whistleblower’s complaint was of urgent concern.

Maguire said that while the complaint was forwarded to the FBI, he was attempting to work out executive privilege concerns. But the law says nothing about the President or the OLC having authority to stop or slow the complaint from being sent to the intelligence committees.

Presidential authority over confidential information has long been a point of dispute between Congress and the executive branch, and the legality surrounding it remains unclear. In fact, when President Bill Clinton signed the intel community whistleblower act, he said that the law “does not constrain my constitutional authority to review and, if appropriate, control disclosure of certain classified information to Congress.”

So while the law is seemingly quite clear, the OLC argued that the law “does not cover every alleged violation of federal law or other abuse that comes to the attention of a member of the intelligence community,” especially when it concerns activity outside of a specific agency’s purview.

11:55 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Supporter who has spoken to Trump in last 24 hours: He "appeared more distracted" than past

From CNN's Jim Acosta

A person who has spoken to Trump in the last 24 hours said the President "appeared more distracted" than he's been in the past and doesn't quite appreciate the potential peril for his administration in light of the latest of revelations in the Ukraine investigation. 

The supporter, who had a phone conversation with Trump, said the President was bragging that the Ukraine controversy was fueling his base and pointing to how much money his campaign had raised over the last few days.

But this supporter said a difference in Trump's focus was noticeable during the call, adding the President seemed distracted at times during the discussion.

Trump, the supporter said, views the Ukraine issue as more of a "pain in the ass," not the growing legal challenge that's emerged this week.

11:55 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Spy chief says a president asking for foreign help in election is "bad for the nation" — but doesn't say if it's illegal

THE HEARING / From CNN's Mike Conte 


Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

In an exchange with Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire said that if a president pressured a foreign government for help winning an election, it would be “unwarranted,” “unwelcome” and “bad for the nation."

He did not, however, say if it was illegal.

Here's the full exchange:

Heck: Director, whether it’s this President or any president, do you believe it is OK for the president of the United States to pressure a foreign country into helping him or her win an election?

Maguire: Congressman Heck, I believe that no one is above the law. And we’ve discussed what we think applies to the law. 

Heck: So it is illegal to solicit?

Maguire: No I can’t answer that, again sir—

Heck: I can’t reconcile your two statements. Is it ok for a president to pressure, any president, to pressure a foreign government for help to win an election?

Maguire: It is unwarranted, it is unwelcome, it is bad for the nation, to have outside interference, any foreign power—

Heck: Thank you. And by extension, it would be equally unacceptable to extort that assistance as well?

Maguire: I mean, all I know is that I have the transcripts as you have. I have the whistleblower complaint as you have. And—

Heck: I wasn’t referring to the whistleblower complaint, but if any president were to do this, and I accept your answer. I think it’s beyond unacceptable, director.

Maguire: Yes sir.

11:49 a.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Joe Biden: Trump "believes he can do anything and get away with it"

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Former Vice President and current 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden said Trump "believes there is no limit to his power" and "believes he is above the law."

"This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is a national issue," Biden tweeted.

Why Biden matters: President Trump repeatedly pushed for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden, and his son, Hunter, during a July 25 phone call, according to a transcript of the conversation released by the White House.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing on the Bidens' parts.

Here's Biden's full tweet:

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.


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


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.