Under cover: 'Flagrant abuse'
President Donald Trump sought to assure Americans Thursday that he never would have said anything "inappropriate" on a call with a foreign leader, and one reason is that there are usually witnesses. "I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself," he tweeted. " … I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!"
Yet something he has said to a yet-to-be-identified foreign leader so alarmed an intelligence official — a "promise" made, as The Washington Post put it — that the official made a whistleblower complaint alerting Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general. The New York Times reported that the complaint related to a series of actions that went beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader but includes a commitment Trump made.
At least part of it involves Ukraine, The Times said. The Washington Post also reported a Ukraine connection.
Atkinson agreed the revelations were a matter of “urgent concern.” But the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is refusing to divulge the complaint and corresponding information to the House and Senate intelligence committees as required by law.
Did the White House order them to clam up? They won't say. “We cannot get an answer to the question about whether the White House is also involved in preventing this information from coming to Congress,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, whose committee grilled Atkinson behind closed doors Thursday.
Atkinson revealed his own discomfort with the decision to withhold the information from Congress. Letters from Atkinson called the complaint a matter of "serious or flagrant abuse" whose substance "relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people." Maguire based his refusal on concerns about revealing “potentially privileged communications” by one or more people outside the intelligence community, according to the Post. Schiff said Maguire also told him that he was acting on instructions from others.
The committee is weighing the possibility of seeking a federal court order to force the quick release of the complaint, Schiff said. "There’s an urgency here that I think the courts will recognize,” he said. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Though it's unclear how Ukraine fits into the whistleblower's allegations, the Times noted the White House recently delayed a military assistance package for its conflict against Russian-backed separatists.
U.S. officials cited corruption concerns, but Trump's allies, including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were urging the Ukrainian government to investigate matters that could help Trump by embarrassing his political rivals, including Joe Biden.
The Times said Giuliani’s efforts created the impression of a linkage between the investigations he wanted and the level of the Trump administration’s willingness to back President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump spoke with Zelensky on July 25.
Truth isn’t truth, continued
“Some whistleblowers are liars,” Giuliani said in a ranty interview on CNN Thursday night.
After host Chris Cuomo questioned whether Giuliani had asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, Giuliani said, "No, actually I didn't."
Less than a minute later:
“So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden," Cuomo said.
"Of course I did," Giuliani replied.
Janison: A dumbster fire
For Trump's question — “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader" while others are listening — Newsday's Dan Janison has an answer. Yes, some of us will admit to being dumb enough to find the notion not all that crazy, given the president's habit of blurting classified stuff out in public and private.
Trump has discussed classified information, apparently provided by Israel, about a planned Islamic State operation in an Oval Office meeting with two visiting Russian diplomats. He confided in them that contrary to the official excuses, he fired FBI Director James Comey because "I faced great pressure because of Russia."
To plumb the depths of dumb, Janison offers other queries Trump could pose. For example, “Is anybody dumb enough to think I would so ardently refuse to release my taxes that it raises suspicion about what’s in them?”
Or how about “dumb enough to believe I would deny saying something I said only recently in the White House to reporters about meeting with Iran without conditions, a remark that is readily available on videotape?” Or even "dumb enough to believe I would alter a weather map with a marking pen to make a useless point?” Constantly in these times, some of us are rendered dumbstruck.
What to do about Iran
The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to the missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities that officials are blaming on Iran, The Associated Press reported.
The president will also hear cautions about how military action could escalate into a wider war, according to U.S. officials. Vice President Mike Pence said Trump will "review the facts, and he'll make a decision about next steps."
A wrinkle in the timing: Iran says its president and foreign minister have received visas from the United States to attend next week’s UN General Assembly in New York, and will be there.
Buttigieg has plan for Warren
Elizabeth Warren's climb in the polls made her a big target for Pete Buttigieg as the South Bend, Indiana, mayor rolled out his health care plan. He said she has failed to spell out how she'd pay for Medicare for All.
“Senator Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question,” Buttigieg said on CNN. He said his plan, which creates a public option but doesn't eliminate private insurance, would allow the country to achieve “universal health care … without raising taxes on the middle class.”
Sues to deep-six 1040 hunt
Trump sued in federal court seeking to block an effort by the Manhattan DA's office to obtain his tax returns as part of a criminal investigation.
“Virtually ‘all legal commenters agree’ that a sitting President of the United States is not ‘subject to the criminal process’ while he is in office,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. The president is fighting on multiple fronts to keep his returns from being seen by New York State prosecutors, U.S. House committees and California voters under a new disclosure law for presidential candidates in that state.
What else is happening:
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been venting frustration behind closed doors at the House Judiciary Committee's Trump investigations, and not just over whether to call it impeachment proceedings, Politico reports. Back home in Manhattan, Chairman Jerry Nadler is facing a primary challenger who says he should be pushing harder.
- The Trump administration is threatening to cut federal grants for a Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University on grounds that include unfairly promoting “the positive aspects of Islam” without a similar focus on Christianity, Judaism and other religions.
- During a meeting at HUD's San Francisco office, Secretary Ben Carson expressed concern about “big, hairy men” trying to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters. HUD staffers present took that as a slam on transgender women, and at least one woman walked out in protest, The Washington Post reported.
- Kamala Harris is putting her flailing campaign on the line with a new Iowa-or-bust strategy, hoping to keep her candidacy alive with a top-tier finish in the first state where voters will weigh in on the 2020 candidates, Politico reports.
- The latest Fox News poll shows the top four Democrats ahead of Trump. Biden held the widest margin at 14 points.
- Bernie Sanders' campaign announced Thursday it has now received contributions from over 1 million individual donors.