Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday wrote a letter demanding that Senate Republicans take immediate action to investigate the Trump Administration’s withholding of a whistleblower complaint reportedly concerning President Donald Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The letter specifically calls for the administration to turn over the controversial secret opinion issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which purportedly advised against turning over the whistleblower complaint.
“In the face of this dire warning and the Trump Administration’s effort to cover it up, the Republican-led Senate has remained silent and submissive, shying away from this institution’s constitutional obligation to conduct oversight,” Schumer wrote.
In the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Schumer demanded hearings into the matter with testimony from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. The letter also requested a subpoena for the whistleblower complaint, a transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, records relating to the delayed $341 million Ukrainian aid package, and the OLC opinion.
The OLC opinion is particularly important because it is reportedly what the administration relied upon in refusing to provide Congress with the complaint as required by law.
New: A DOJ official says it was the Office of Legal Counsel that advised DNI not to disclose the whistleblower complaint to Congress. No word yet whether Barr was directly involved.
— Julia E. Ainsley (@JuliaEAinsley) September 19, 2019
Under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, when the Inspector General (IG) determines a complaint of urgent concern to be credible, it must be sent to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) who must then forward it to Congress within seven days.
Former general counsel to the Office of the DNI Robert S. Litt, however, recently noted that the administration’s legal reasoning for withholding of the complaint is not entirely baseless.
“[S]ome have argued that the statute does not allow the DNI to make his own determination of the applicability of the statute but, instead, requires him to accept the ICIG’s determination that something is a matter of urgent concern,” Litt wrote last week in Lawfare. “In this case, however, it appears that the DNI went to the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for an opinion. OLC opinions are considered to be binding and authoritative interpretations of law within the executive branch. So, if OLC in fact formally opined that this complaint was not an ‘urgent concern’ as defined in the statute, the DNI could take the position that the ICIG must follow that interpretation.”
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