Congress and the White House are in a standoff after the Administration refused to disclose a whistleblower complaint to the Inspector General over a national security breach — a complaint that under federal law is to be supplied to Congress. There is now a Washington Post report that the Complaint concerns a “promise” made by President Donald Trump to a foreign leader that was considered so serious that it prompted an intelligence official to file the complaint and prompted the Inspector General to declare the matter an “urgent concern.” Trump has been previously criticized for disclosing classified information, including a serious breach in a meeting with Russian officials.
Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint but acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire refused to share the complaint with Congress. This could trigger a serious legal dispute over separation of powers and the direct blocking of an oversight inquiry.
The Inspector General considered the matter sufficiently serious to notify Congress of the refusal to share the complaint.
The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) of 1998 established the whistleblower system for the intelligence community. In 2010, additional protections were added by Congress. Under 50 U.S.C. §3033:
An employee of an element of the intelligence community, an employee assigned or detailed to an element of the intelligence community, or an employee of a contractor to the intelligence community who intends to report to Congress a complaint or information with respect to an urgent concern may report such complaint or information to the Inspector General. (Emphasis added.)
The IG then has 14 days after receiving a credible complaint to give it to the director of national intelligence (DNI) within 14 days. Thereafter:
Upon receipt of a transmittal from the Inspector General … the Director shall, within 7 calendar days of such receipt, forward such transmittal to the congressional intelligence committees, together with any comments the Director considers appropriate. (Emphasis added.)
That would make the duty clear under federal law. There appears to be some claim that this complaint does not fall within the statutory process. If the President is the source of the breach, it could be claimed as a matter of policy. Since the President has declassification authority, they could be claiming that he cannot be deemed responsible for such a breach.
This however is an exceptionally rare and potentially serious matter. It is clear that an intelligence official and the IG deemed this disclosure to be so serious as to be a threat to national security interests under the law.