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Schiff threatens suit to get whistleblower complaint reportedly over Trump call

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) speaks

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) speaks Thursday about the whistleblower complaint. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Thursday threatened to sue the Trump administration to force the release of a whistleblower complaint filed by a U.S. intelligence official that reportedly involves President Donald Trump’s communications with a foreign leader.

The complaint, filed last month to the inspector general for the intelligence community, has caused a standoff between Congress and Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who has refused to turn over the complaint and corresponding information to the House and Senate intelligence committees as required by law.

Little is known about the complaint that was filed on Aug. 15 and reviewed by Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, but a report published in The Washington Post on Wednesday evening said it was filed by a U.S. intelligence official who was alarmed by a “promise” Trump allegedly made to a foreign leader during a phone conversation this summer.

In a follow-up piece published Thursday night, the Post reported that the complaint centers on Ukraine. House Democrats, last month opened an investigation into a call between Trump and newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and have been demanding a full transcript of the call from the White House.

Trump, on Twitter, dismissed the report, saying he would never “say something inappropriate with a foreign leader” over the phone.

“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!”

In a follow-up tweet, Trump said: "Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!"

Trump has previously faced scrutiny over his disclosure of sensitive information, including sharing classified intelligence with the Russian ambassador to the United States during an Oval Office meeting in 2017. Last month, the president tweeted out a surveillance photo of a failed satellite launch in Iran, which former intelligence officials said potentially revealed information about U.S. intelligence-gathering capability.

Atkinson refused to provide details about the complaint during a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning and focused his testimony on broader questions of procedure, according to accounts provided to The Associated Press by officials who were in the room.

Last month, Atkinson determined the complaint was credible and designated it as a matter of “urgent concern,” triggering a statutory requirement for the complaint to be turned over to congressional oversight committees. Maguire has refused to turn over the complaint, citing concerns about revealing “potentially privileged communications” by one or more people outside the intelligence community, according to the Post.

Schiff, who last week subpoenaed Maguire to force the release of the complaint, accused the Trump administration on Thursday of an “unprecedented” effort to “prevent this information from getting to Congress.”

“Someone is trying to manipulate the system,” Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters, later adding that the committee is “determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is, to make sure that the national security is protected and to make sure that this whistleblower is protected.”

He said the panel is weighing the possibility of seeking a federal court order to force the release of the complaint.

“We will have a very good case to seek a mandatory restraining order,” he said. “It’s not a situation where we can afford to go through weeks or months of litigation in this court or that court, there’s an urgency here that I think the courts will recognize.”

Maguire has agreed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in an open hearing scheduled for next Thursday. He and Atkinson are expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week.

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