Trump official breaks with the president and defends the whistleblower

Trump official breaks with the president and defends the whistleblower
President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, to the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

As President Donald Trump fights back the groundswell of opposition triggered by the revelation that he has pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one tactic he has employed is attacking the whistleblower. While much of conduct central to the Ukraine scandal has happened in public, an intelligence community whistleblower complaint — which has been blocked from Congress by the administration — triggered the outcry and greater scrutiny of the series of events.

In response, Trump called the complaint "a political hack job." He said the stories were "ridiculous," and he claimed that, though he doesn't know the whistleblower's identity, he heard "it's a partisan person."

As Media Matters has documented, some of Fox News personalities shared Trump's rhetoric.

“This is a clear example of someone from the deep state," said former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Fox of the whistleblower complaint. “It was completely overblown. ... It will be a big nothingburger.” Filing the complaint itself, he said, was "outrageous conduct."

Geraldo Rivera said the whistleblower was "a punk who’s snitching out the president’s phone calls to a foreign leader."

But in a new letter sent Tuesday, a central Trump official in the scandal directly undermined these attacks.

Jason Klitenic, the general counsel for the director of national intelligence, played a key role in stopping the whistleblower complaint from making its way to Congress, as the law requires. The intelligence community inspector general determined the complaint was of "urgent concern," which legally means it should be handed over to the intelligence committees in the House and Senate. But DNI Joseph Maguire, in consultation with the Justice Department and Klitenic, determined that the complaint is not actually of "urgent concern" as a legal matter because it does not fall into the DNI's jurisdiction. (Presumably, this claim stems from the fact that it involves presidential conduct, which also accounts for Maguire's claim that the complaint is shielded by privilege.)

The new letter written to the whistleblower's lawyer Andrew Bakaj, however, is careful to note that his client's rights will be protected while not questioning his or her motives.

"I commend your client's willingness to come forward to the ICIG, and the DNI is committed to protecting your client from retaliation for that disclosure," the letter said. "I also want to take this opportunity to state that we have every reason to believe your client — our IC colleague — has acted in good faith and fully complied with the law. Furthermore, we understand that your client has respected the confidential and privileged nature of the information, while awaiting the guidance your letter references."

These claims could undermine the White House's attempt to paint the whistleblower — who remains anonymous — as some sort of nefarious actor or partisan agent.

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