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Acting DNI Testifies After Release of Whistleblower Complaint

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  • Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before Congress about his handling of the whistleblower complaint alleging Trump acted inappropriately on a call with the President of Ukraine.
  • The complaint was released to the public on the same day as Maguire’s testimony.
  • In it, the whistleblower wrote: “I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
  • Among other things, the whistleblower complaint details the call between the two leaders, key events and meetings regarding the President and his administration both before and after the call, and alleged efforts by some in the administration to hide records of the call and other calls with foreign leaders.

Maguire Testifies

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday following the release of the whistleblower complaint alleging that President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.

Maguire’s testimony follows the public release of a memorandum detailing the call between Trump and Zelensky on Wednesday, which showed Trump asking Zelensky to look into Biden.

Maguire has received backlash over the way he handled the complaint, specifically because he did not turn it over to Congress as mandated under the law.

In his opening remarks, Maguire defended his handling of the complaint, including his decision to hold it as long as he did, noting that the whole situation was unprecedented. He also added that he was following the Whistleblower Act in his decision making.

Maguire said he believed the whistleblower was acting in good faith and added, “I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.” It’s also worth noting that Maquire does not know the identity of the whistleblower, and thus he would not know the whistleblower’s gender.

The testimony also comes as the whistleblower’s complaint was publicly released with minimal redactions earlier on Thursday morning. 

Here are some key excerpts from that complaint.

The Complaint

The whistleblower starts out with this passage:

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”

They also note that Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr are involved.

The whistleblower goes on to say that they had received this information “over the past four months” from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials.” 

Notably, they say that they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” but added, “I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”

This goes back to claims from Trump and others that the whistleblower was not a first-hand witness. Though to be clear, they are saying they did not witness most of the events, not all of them.

“I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order,’” the complaint continues. “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”

The whistleblower then outlines those actions through a series of different sections.

The 25 July Presidential Phone Call

The first section is titled “The 25 July Presidential phone call” and details the call between Trump and Zelensky.

The whistleblower says it was the first publicly acknowledged call between the leaders since a quick congratulatory call after Zelensky won his election. Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he had an earlier call with Zelensky, and say he would release the transcript of that call if asked.

“Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests,” the whistleblower wrote regarding the July 25 call. “Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukranian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”

They then go on to note the actions detailed in the memo for the call, adding, “The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”

Efforts to Restrict Access to Records Related to the Call

The second section is called “Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.”

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced — as is customary — by the White House Situation Room,” the whistleblower states. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”

“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored,” they continued, elaborating that instead of storing it where it is normally stored, it was loaded into a separate electronic system “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”

“One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective,” they note.

This was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information,” the whistleblower continues later.

Ongoing Concerns & Circumstances Leading Up to the 25 July Presidential Phone Call

The third and fourth sections of the complaint are titled “Ongoing concerns” and “Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call.”

In these sections, the whistleblower said that multiple officials told them that Giuliani had: “Reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers.”

Later, the whistleblower adds that even before the call, starting in mid-May, officials told them “That they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukranian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”

They also talk about efforts made after the call by two ambassadors who “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”

They go on to say that officials told them that State Department officials, including the same two ambassadors “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”

Notably, the whistleblower says: “During this same time frame, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired” by the former Ukraine prosecutor general and Giuliani.

They noted that information was conveyed to them by U.S. officials, but that they do not know “who delivered this message to the Ukranian leadership, or when.”

The whistleblower elaborates on that in an appendix, where they say that U.S. officials told them that Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his trip to attend Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, and instead sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“According to these officials, it was also ‘made clear’ to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy ‘chose to act’ in office,” they added.

Here, the whistleblower again notes that they do not know how that was communicated or by whom, and also that they do not know if that action was directly “connected with the broader understanding” that a meeting or call between Trump and Zelensky would “depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’”

The last thing the whistleblower includes in the complaint is about aid to Ukraine. They write that on July 18, an official from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) informed other departments and agencies “That the President ‘earlier that month’ had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.”

They say that neither OMB nor the National Security Council staff knew why Trump had made that decision, but add that OMB officials had explicitly said that the order came directly from the president. 

“As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukranian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy,” the complaint continues. “But I do not know how or when they learned of it.”

Quid Pro Quo Debate & Pentagon Letter

The last few excerpts about Zelensky being willing to “play ball” and about Trump putting a hold on the military aid will likely shift the debate about whether or not there was implicit pressure for a quid pro quo.

Trump did not outright say “look into Biden and I’ll give you something in return,” but some have argued that Trump was holding back nearly $400 million in military and security aid as leverage over Zelensky.

Trump for his part has said that he decided to hold back the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

However, on Wednesday evening, NPR obtained a letter from the Pentagon sent to four congressional committees back in May that appears to contradict that claim.

In the letter, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood wrote that he, “certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability.”

As NPR explains, that certification is required under the law for that aid to be released to Ukraine. Basically, the undersecretary said in his letter he had certified that Ukraine had met its corruption reduction goals and that the aid was good to go.

After that, the Defense Department announced it would be sending the aid to Ukraine back in June. The White House then blocked that aid before Trump’s call with Zelensky in July.

That aid was released to Ukraine on Sept. 11 after Congress learned the aid was being withheld and demanded it be given to Ukraine. That demand came right around the time Congress was first informed about the whistleblower complaint.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Trump Issues Over 140 Pardons and Commutations Ahead of Biden’s Inauguration

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  • In his last moments in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
  • Among the notable pardons and commutations were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump megadonor Elliott Broidy.
  • Trump’s final round of clemency did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reform advocates.
  • Still, many also condemned Trump for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have been rehabilitated. Instead, critics feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Trump Grants Clemency

Former President Donald Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The move marks Trump’s final major act before the end of his term. Many of the most notable pardons and commutations were given to people whose names had been circulating in reports earlier this week, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, as well as former adviser Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s pardon is especially significant because he has not yet stood trial for the charges he faces. The charges against Trump’s former right-hand man center around allegations that he defrauded half a million people who donated to a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of the border wall.

The leaders of the charity, aptly named We Build the Wall, had claimed that the more than $25 million they had solicited in donations would go to their goal, but prosecutors claim that Bannon took $1 million for his own personal expenses.

Bannon’s pardon is also significant because, according to reports, the reason the clemency announcements were late was because Trump could not decide whether or not to pardon him. However, as The Washington Post notes, Trump’s ultimate decision “underscores how Trump has used his presidential power to benefit allies and political backers.”

Trump has recently granted pardons to several of his former top aides, many of whom seem to have a knack for committing crimes for him.

At the end of last year, he pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his close friend and adviser, Roger Stone. All three had been convicted of crimes during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In this newest batch of clemency grants, the former president also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump campaign fundraiser. Broidy pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws and accepting millions of dollars as part of a secret campaign to lobby the administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.

Trump additionally pardoned a number of politicians who have been indicted for corruption, including three former Republican members of Congress and one former Democratic mayor.

Those Left Out

Trump’s last round of pardons and commutations did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reformers. One of those individuals was Chris Young, a man who had been sentenced to life for drug conspiracy, and whose commutation Kim Kardashian West had lobbied.

But in general, Trump has largely been condemned by criminal justice advocates for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have rehabilitated. Instead, they feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Despite the attention some of his pardons have received, either because they had celebrity power behind them or were controversial, Trump has actually approved fewer clemency requests than most previous presidents who served one term or less. Until this week, he had only granted clemency to 95 people.

Also of note are the controversial pardons that Trump was reportedly considering but ultimately decided against. These included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic, the latter of whom was so sure he would be pardoned that he had a limo waiting for him outside his prison.

Trump was also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning himself and his children, but he apparently decided against the move. In addition to a self-pardon being questionably unconstitutional, any clemency for the former president and his family would require them to admit they committed crimes they have not yet been charged with.

While Trump decided against becoming the first president to ever pardon himself, the fact that he decided to give clemency to so many of his allies might pose some issues.

President Bill Clinton faced both congressional and criminal investigations for giving out 140 pardons and commutations on his final day in office in 2001, though notably, no wrongdoing was ultimately found. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert Accused of Leading Capitol Tour Before Insurrection

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  • Rep. Steve Cohen told CNN Monday that he and another lawmaker personally saw GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert guiding a “large” group of people around the Capitol days before the insurrection.
  • Numerous representatives have said they saw GOP members leading an unusual amount of tours before the riots. They also said some of the visitors were involved with the rally that preceded the attack.
  • Boebert preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week before any official accused her by name.
  • She reiterated that denial in a statement responding to Cohen’s accusations and claimed that she had only ever given a tour to members of her family.

Rep. Cohen’s Claims

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tn.) said Monday that he and a fellow Democratic member of Congress personally witnessed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) leading a “large” group of people around the Capitol complex in the days before the violent attacks on Jan. 6.

While speaking on CNN, Cohen said that he and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) “saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.”

“I don’t remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her and commented who she was and she had a large group with her,” he continued. “Now whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know.”

Notably, Cohen said he did not know who was in the group or if they were part of the attack. That fact was also echoed by Yarmuth, who confirmed in a statement that he did see Boebert with a group of people around her but added that he “has no knowledge of who they were or if they were with her.”

Over the last few weeks, dozens of Democrats have been demanding that officials investigate whether or not Republican lawmakers aided in the riots. Last Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told reporters she saw some of her GOP colleagues leading “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol with people who she later saw during the riots.

The following day, 31 House Democrats signed a letter claiming they and some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol on Jan. 5.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” they wrote. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

Boebert’s Checkered Record

Until Monday, no lawmakers had named any of the members involved in the alleged tours, but many outlets and political analysts both implicitly and explicitly tied Boebert to the accusations.

In her roughly two-week-long tenure as a member of Congress, the young Republican has received significant heat for her role in the insurrection among other recent, controversial moves. 

Last week, Boebert was temporarily banned from Twitter and faced numerous calls to resign for tweeting out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection.

She has also been widely criticized for publicly announcing she would bring her gun to the Capitol complex, refusing to have her bag searched after she set off a metal detector, and voting to invalidate millions of votes by objecting to the certification of the electoral college.

In fact, Boebert has faced so much scrutiny that she preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week, even before anyone directly named her. At the time, she issued a statement saying she has only ever given a tour to her children, husband, mother, aunt, and uncle.

Boebert reiterated those claims in a letter to Cohen Monday, where she called his remarks “categorically false.”

“I have never given a tour of the U.S. Capitol to any outside group,” she wrote. “As I previously stated, I brought my family to the Capitol on January 2nd for a tour and on the 3rd for pictures to commemorate the day I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. Congress.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (CPR News

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Washington, D.C. Ramps Up Security Before Inauguration

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  • Officials in Washington are ramping up security measures and imposing heavy restrictions ahead of the inauguration Wednesday.
  • The National Mall has been closed down since Friday, barricades have been put up all over the city, car traffic has been limited, and many public transit routes have also been shut down.
  • Around 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed from across the country, and the FBI is vetting all of them due to concerns of an insider attack.
  • Security has also been significantly increased in many state capitals nationwide following calls for armed protests in all 50 states, but so far, most of the protests at statehouses have been peaceful and exceptionally small.

Capitol Increases Security Measures

With two days to go until the inauguration, security has been massively ramped up in the nation’s Capitol.

While the inauguration is usually a high-security event, Washington has now instituted security measures not seen since the Civil War following a Jan. 6  insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol. Intelligence agencies have since warned about more threats of violence.

In an unprecedented move, the National Park Service announced Friday that the National Mall — which usually hosts massive crowds during the inauguration — will be closed until at least Thursday. The inaugural ceremony itself will also be scaled down due to both security threats and the pandemic.

Various barricades ranging from small metal barriers to tall fencing reinforced with heavy concrete blocks have been set up around the Mall and in other parts of the city, such as at federal buildings and businesses.

The Capitol complex itself, which will be entirely shut off to the public on Wednesday, is currently surrounded by a 7-foot fence topped with razor wire. 

Over a dozen metro lines will be shut down and more than two dozen bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter. Car traffic in most of the city will be either banned entirely or limited exclusively to residents and businesses only. Several bridges that connect DC to Virginia will also be shut down, and all street closures are subject to change or to be extended at the discretion of the Secret Service.

In addition to the wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel who are normally involved in inauguration security, around 25,000 National Guard troops have also been deployed from all across the country.

That is nearly two and a half times the number present for previous inaugurations. Notably, officials have been vetting all 25,000 coming to Washington because they are worried about an insider attack.

States Ramp Up Security

It is not just D.C. that is ramping up security. There have been mass deployments of the National Guard and other law enforcement officers to state Capitols all across the country. According to The New York Times, 19 states have deployed their National Guards following calls for armed protests in all 50 states.

So far, most of the activity that has been seen around statehouses are small, peaceful demonstrations by a few people, some of whom are armed. Even the most attended rallies had two dozen people or less.

Notably, all of the largest demonstrations documented so far have reportedly been held by or included members of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right group that wants to start a second Civil War. The group showed up in some of the highest numbers in front of the Capitol buildings in Ohio, Michigan, and Utah.

As was the case with all of the other demonstrations so far, the protestors have been far outnumbered by security officials — and in some cases, spectators.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)

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