Donald Trump’s false claim about a change in whistleblower rules

President Donald Trump raised the specter of shady bureaucratic doings that allowed a whistleblower’s complaint to move forward when ordinarily it wouldn’t have.

“Who changed the long standing whistleblower rules just before submittal of the fake whistleblower report?” Trump tweeted Sept. 30. “Drain the swamp!”

Trump was far from the only one saying the rules were changed “just before” the report that ignited an impeachment inquiry was filed Aug. 12. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted the same thing Sept. 28.

“Whistleblowers were required to provide direct, first-hand knowledge of allegations,” McCarthy wrote. “But just days before the Ukraine whistleblower came forward, the IC (Inspector General of the Intelligence Community) secretly removed that requirement from the complaint form.” Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani echoed the same point Sept. 29.

All three tweets lead back to the same article on the conservative website Federalist. 

All three are wrong. 

• First-hand knowledge by a whistleblower has never been required since the law protecting intelligence community whistleblowers was enacted.

• Inspector General staff, who investigate a charge, need first-hand information to move a complaint forward — as they did in this case.

• The current complaint was based on both first- and second-hand information.The Federalist article

The Sept. 27 article claimed, “Between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community secretly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings.”

The evidence comes from a tweet thread started by Stephen McIntyre on the morning the Federalist article appeared. McIntyre is a former mining company director who created the Climate Audit blog, which questions the official data behind climate change.

From the thread, a few key points emerge:

As of May 24, 2018, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community’s Urgent Concern disclosure form — the form whistleblowers fill out  — offered three choices to describe how the whistleblower got his/her information: personal knowledge, heard from other people, and other sources.

The current form offers just two choices: personal knowledge or “heard about it from others.” That form dates from August 2019.

The previous form also included a section under the subhead “First-hand information required.”

“In order to find an urgent concern ‘credible,’ the IC IG (Intelligence Community Inspector General) must be in possession of reliable, first-hand information. The IC IG cannot transmit information via the ICWPA (Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act) based on an employee’s second-hand knowledge of wrongdoing. This includes information received from another person, such as when a fellow employee informs you that he/she witnessed some type of wrongdoing. (Anyone with first-hand knowledge of the allegations may file a disclosure in writing directly with the IC IG.) Similarly, speculation about the existence of wrongdoing does not provide sufficient basis to meet the statutory requirements of the ICWPA. If you think wrongdoing took place, but can provide nothing more than secondhand or unsubstantiated assertions, IC IG will not be able to process the complaint or information for submission as an ICWPA.”

The current reporting form lacks that section.

Based on these facts, Trump and other Republicans asserted that the rules for whistleblowers were changed “just before” the current complaint was filed. Actually, only the forms were changed. The rules stayed the same.The actual sequence

The whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry filled out the earlier version of the form, and no rules were changed.

The Office of Inspector General issued a statement Sept. 30 saying that “the Disclosure of Urgent Concern form the Complainant submitted on August 12, 2019, is the same form the IC IG has had in place since May 24, 2018.”

The inspector general’s office underscored that the whistleblower received the section about the need for first-hand evidence before a claim would go on to the next step.

So changes to the form took place after the whistleblower filed.

As for the rules on what is required, those have been the same since 2014 under an order issued by the Director of National Intelligence. Intelligence Community Directive 120 defines a protected disclosure as one that the employee “reasonably believes evidences a violation of any law, rule or regulation.”

The statement from the Inspector General’s office emphasized the reasonable belief standard.

“By law the Complainant – or any individual in the Intelligence Community who wants to report information with respect to an urgent concern to the congressional intelligence committees – need not possess first-hand information in order to file a complaint,” the statement said. “The IC IG cannot add conditions to the filing of an urgent concern that do not exist in law.”

The section about the need for first-hand information has to do with the investigation that follows a whistleblower’s report, not a requirement for the report itself.

“This is their way of tempering the whistleblower’s expectations,” said analyst Irvin McCullough, with the nonprofit Government Accountability Project. (McCullough’s father served as inspector general until 2017 and now represents the whistleblower.) “It says we might not find enough to support your complaint.”

The latest IG statement says it changed its forms after the current affair unfurled, because it understood some parts “could be read — incorrectly — as suggesting that whistleblowers must possess first-hand information in order to file an urgent concern complaint.”

The statement noted that the whistleblower checked both boxes to indicate he/she had both first and second-hand information. 

It also notes that its investigation found the report credible and urgent.

The White House had no comment.Our ruling

Trump said, “Longstanding whistleblower rules (were changed) just before submittal of the fake whistleblower report.”

The current rules have been in place since 2014. Whistleblowers can provide either first or second-hand information, or both. The current whistleblower filled out a form that dates from May 2018. Whatever changes existed on that form date from 14 months before the present claim was filed.

Investigators require more than second-hand information in order to move a complaint forward, but that is not a requirement before a complaint can be filed.

The Inspector General’s office changed its forms after the whistleblower filed, but those changes had no bearing on the rules under which a claim would be processed.

We rate this claim False.

[Politifact]

Trump Attacks Whistle-Blower’s Sources and Alludes to Punishment for Spies

President Trump on Thursday morning told a crowd of staff from the United States Mission to the United Nations that he wants to know who provided information to a whistle-blower about his phone call with the president of Ukraine, saying that whoever did so was “close to a spy” and that “in the old days,” spies were dealt with differently.

The remark stunned people in the audience, according to a person briefed on what took place, who had notes of what the president said. Mr. Trump made the statement about several minutes into his remarks before the group of about 50 people at the event intended to honor the United States Mission. At the outset, he condemned the former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s role in Ukraine at a time when his son Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Mr. Trump repeatedly referred to the whistle-blower and condemned the news media reporting on the complaint as “crooked.” He then said the whistle-blower never heard the call in question.

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

The complaint, which was made public on Thursday morning, said that the whistle-blower obtained information about the call from multiple United States officials.

“Over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort,” the complaint stated.

Some in the crowd laughed, the person briefed on what took place said. The event was closed to reporters, and during his remarks, the president called the news media “scum” in addition to labeling them as crooked.

Mr. Trump spoke as the director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was testifying before Congress that the president had never asked for the identity of the whistle-blower, whose complaint was initially withheld from Congress by the Trump administration. The complaint described concerns that the president was using his phone call with the Ukrainian president in July for personal gain to fulfill a political vendetta.

The ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Knight Craft, was in the room.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a Twitter post later in the day, Mr. Trump referred again to the whistle-blower having “second hand information” and said it was “Another Witch Hunt!”

[The New York Times]

Media

Trump responds to whistleblower complaint: “Another Fake News Story! Another Witch Hunt!”

U.S. President Donald Trump has responded to the release of the whistleblower complaint who indicated possible violations during the president’s on July 25 telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. “A whistleblower with second hand information? Another Fake News Story! See what was said on the very nice, no pressure, call. Another Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted on September 26.

The U.S. president says Chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff has lost credibility. “Adam Schiff has zero credibility. Another fantasy to hurt the Republican Party!” he said. He later added: “Liddle’ Adam Schiff, who has worked unsuccessfully for 3 years to hurt the Republican Party and President, has just said that the Whistleblower, even though he or she only had second hand information, ‘is credible.’ How can that be with zero info and a known bias.”

[Unian]

Reality

Out of all the stupid talking points Trump supporters are parroting, that’s the dumbest and easiest to debunk.
The whistleblower complaint matched directly with the “transcript” memo released by Trump.

Trump says he doesn’t believe report of Israel spying on White House

US President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not believe a report that Israel was likely behind the placement of devices in the vicinity of the White House that can capture cellphone calls.

“I don’t believe that, no, I don’t believe the Israelis were spying on us. I really would find that hard to believe,” Trump told reporters at the White House after being asked about the report.

The Politico news outlet reported Thursday that the FBI had determined Israel was responsible for the placement of cellphone surveillance equipment near the White House and at other sensitive locations in Washington, DC.

“My relationship with Israel has been great,” Trump said, listing some of his pro-Israel accomplishments. “Anything is possible,” he conceded, “but I don’t believe it.”

Earlier Thursday a senior US official also denied the report.

The story “is completely false. Absolutely false. I checked,” Noga Tarnopolsky, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, quoted the senior administration official as saying.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials swiftly rejected the accusation as a “blatant lie.” Netanyahu said it was absolutely false, without “a scintilla” of truth.

“There is a longstanding commitment, and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US. This directive is strictly enforced without exception,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read.

Also, an Israeli spying operation against the United States government on American soil would represent a dramatic departure from decades-old Israeli policy, a former intelligence official said.

According to Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser, that was not a pro forma denial by a government caught doing something it shouldn’t, but a true description of Israeli policy.

“Can I tell you from personal knowledge that it’s not happening today? No. Could someone have lost it completely in some upper echelon of the government? I don’t know. But based on everything I know, it’s totally false,” Freilich told The Times of Israel.

A former senior US official with knowledge of the alleged Israeli operation told Politico it was assumed that the devices were installed to spy on US President Donald Trump and his top aides, although it was unclear whether the attempt was successful.

[Times of Israel]

Trump lashes out at former intel officials for criticism of Iran tweet

President Trump blasted former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Saturday for criticism of a tweet Trump sent following a reported accident at an Iranian rocket facility.

The president referred to the three men in a pair of tweets as “failed former ‘Intelligence’ officials” and accused them of scolding him for offering “condolences” to Iranian officials.

“Being scolded by failed former “Intelligence” officials, like James Clapper, on my condolences to Iran on their failed Rocket launch. Sadly for the United States, guys like him, Comey, and the even dumber John Brennan, don’t have a clue. They really set our Country back,” Trump tweeted, adding: “but now we are moving forward like never before. We are winning again, and we are respected again!”

It wasn’t immediately clear what criticism the president was referring to, as the officials had not issued public statements on Trump’s tweet or his decision to release an image taken by U.S. forces of a damaged Iranian rocket facility. Trump has faced criticism from some Democrats for releasing the image due to its high resolution and concerns over whether it should have remained classified.

At a press conference Friday evening, Trump defended his right to release the image, which he said was done under his executive privilege as president.

“We had a photo, and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump said Friday. 

“They had a big mishap. It’s unfortunate. So Iran, as you probably know, they were going to set off a big missile, and it didn’t work out too well. It had nothing to do with us,” he added.

NPR previously reported on Thursday that satellite imagery showed an explosion had occurred on the launch pad at an Iranian rocket facility, though it was unclear if the incident resulted in any casualties.

[The Hill]

President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

President Trump has tweeted what experts say is almost certainly an image from a classified satellite or drone, showing the aftermath of an accident at an Iranian space facility.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir [Space Launch Vehicle] Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” the president said in a tweet that accompanied the image on Friday. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”

NPR broke the news of the launch failure on Thursday, using images from commercial satellites that flew over Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center. Those images showed smoke billowing from the pad. Iran has since acknowledged an accident occurred at the site.

Some of the highest-resolution imagery available commercially comes from the company Maxar, whose WorldView-2 satellite sports 46-centimeter resolution.

But the image shown in the president’s tweet appears to be of far better quality, says Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, who specializes in analyzing satellite imagery. “The resolution is amazingly high,” says Panda. “I would think it’s probably below well below 20 centimeters, which is much higher than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Panda says that the tweet discloses “some pretty amazing capabilities that the public simply wasn’t privy to before this.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred questions about the image to the White House, which declined to comment.

The image shows the aftermath of the accident, which experts believe took place while the rocket was being fueled. Clearly visible is the truck used to transport and erect the rocket, and the words “The product of national empowerment,” which have been written along the edge of the pad. The picture also shows extensive debris and charring around the pad.

It was not entirely clear where the president’s photo came from. Panda believes it was most likely taken by a classified U.S. satellite. But Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network at the One Earth Foundation, believes that the resolution is so high, it may be beyond the physical limits at which satellites can operate. “The atmosphere is thick enough that after somewhere around 11 to 9 centimeters, things get wonky,” she says.

That could mean it was taken by a drone or spy plane, though such a vehicle would be violating Iranian airspace. Hanham also says that the European company Airbus has been experimenting with drones that fly so high, they are technically outside the atmosphere and thus operating outside national boundaries. But she says she doesn’t know whether the U.S. has such a system.

Glare in the center of the image suggests the image in the tweet was itself a photo of a briefing slide. Panda suggests it could have been displayed on a computer screen in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. It’s also possible it was a photo of a piece of paper.

Either way, Panda notes that a small redaction in the upper left-hand corner suggests the intelligence community had cleared the image for release by the president.

But both he and Hanham question whether releasing it was a good idea. “You really risk giving away the way you know things,” Hanham says. “That allows people to adapt and hide how they carry out illicit activity.”

“These are closely held national secrets,” Panda adds. “We don’t even share a lot of this kind of imagery with our closest allies.” In tweeting it out to the world, Trump is letting Iran know exactly what the U.S. is capable of. He’s also letting others know as well, Panda says. “The Russians and the Chinese, you’re letting them know that these are the kind of things that the United States has the capability of seeing,” he says.

[NPR]

Trump Abruptly Drops John Ratcliffe As DNI Nominee Amid Political Headwinds

President Trump abruptly dropped his intention to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to serve as director of national intelligence on Friday.

Coolness from Senate Republicans and reports in the press about past overstatements about Ratcliffe’s record appear to have prompted the White House to calculate that it was wiser to cut bait now than try to press ahead against those headwinds.

Trump wrote on Twitter that Ratcliffe had been treated “unfairly” in media coverage and that he’d told the congressman it might be easier to just stay in the House.

Trump also wrote that he would announce another nominee to become director of national intelligence “shortly.”

The position is to become vacant with the resignation of Dan Coats, with whom Trump never developed a rapport.

Tensions between the president and the intelligence community also appear to have worsened over the Ratcliffe episode, as people in the spy world made clear via the newspaper coverage how unqualified they believed he is and how unwelcome he would be atop the sprawling alphabet soup of domestic and foreign spy agencies.

The feeling is clearly mutual: The New York Times reported on Friday that Trump has at least once barred Coats’ deputy, Sue Gordon, from the Oval Office and that the White House might attempt to stop her from serving as the interim DNI during the interregnum after Coats’ departure.

Gordon is an intelligence community lifer with some three decades of experience and has served as the day-to-day, hands-on manager. Her supporters faulted what appeared to be a scheme to deny her at least an interim role in the top job, which they argue is owed her by law.

Senate intelligence committee ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., told the Times the idea of denying Gordon was “outrageous.”

As for Ratcliffe, he thanked Trump in a Twitter post following the one Trump used to announce he would no longer be nominated. Ratcliffe also said he would have been a candid and professional director of national intelligence, following worries that he was being installed as a political lackey.

[NPR]

Trump’s intelligence chief resigned after the White House repeatedly suppressed his warnings about Russian interference

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats repeatedly found his warnings about the threat posed by Russia suppressed by the White House, The New York Times reported Sunday amid his resignation from the post.

According to The Times, Coats has often found himself at odds with President Donald Trump over Russia, a situation that worsened in recent months.

Coats saw Russia as an adversary to the US, The Times wrote, and pushed for closer cooperation with European countries to counter it, but the White House did not agree.

Several times Coats saw his language on the Kremlin’s activities watered down by the White House, according to The Times.

A secret report by Coats on Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2018 midterms by spreading disinformation was reportedly altered by the White House. A public statement on Coats’ conclusions contained less critical language than the original, The Times said.

A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that Coats felt marginalized on national security issues by the president and had come to see his departure as inevitable.

According to reports, Trump had been discussing replacing Coats for months.

Trump has long faced scrutiny for his warm comments on Russia and his changing positions on whether Russia interfered to help him secure his 2016 election victory.

Robert Mueller concluded in the special counsel’s Russia investigation that there was insufficient evidence to charge the president or his aides with criminally conspiring with Russia in 2016.

Trump in a tweet Sunday announced that Coats would step down in mid-August and nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as his replacement.

In his tweet, he thanked Coats for his service but offered him no praise.

“The intelligence community is stronger than ever and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities,” Coats wrote in his resignation letter, citing the recent appointment of an official charged with countering foreign election interference.

During his time as director of national intelligence, Coats had publicly contradicted Trump on the president’s claims regarding Russia and North Korea.

In a statement released after Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018, Coats rebutted the president’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election.

At a national security conference in Colorado last year, Coats reacted with incredulity when told Trump had invited Putin to the White House at the summit.

“That’s going to be special,” he remarked.

And in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, Coats contradicted Trump’s claims that North Korea no longer posed a threat because of his summits with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

[Business Insider]

Trump promises not to use Kim Jong Un’s family members as CIA assets

President Donald Trump promised Tuesday not to use Kim Jong Un’s family members as intelligence assets, and reassured the North Korean dictator of his commitment to detente.

A report released Monday showed Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, met with Central Intelligence Agency contacts in Malaysia back in 2017 shortly before he was assassinated.

A Wall Street Journal story entitled “North Korean Leader’s Slain Half Brother Was A CIA Source” claims a “person knowledgeable about the matter” confirmed he was feeding intelligence to American officials.

Trump referred to his current relationship with Kim during an exchange with reporters outside Marine One Tuesday, saying he believes the two still have a strong relationship.

“I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un,” he said.

Speaking to the press pool, Trump said, “I think the relationship is very well, but I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA with regard to his brother or half brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices.”

Kim Jong Nam was murdered in February of 2017 when two women smudged his face with VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

In March, the Malaysian attorney general dropped the murder charge against Siti Aisyah, following high-level lobbying from Jakarta and Doan Thi Huong was released in May.

The two women have also been accused of conspiring with four North Koreans who prosecutors said have left the country, AP reported.

[Fox News]

Trump Implies He Trusts North Korea’s Kim More Than His Own People

President Donald Trump seemed to contradict his national security adviser Saturday, claiming he was unbothered by North Korea’s recent missile tests essentially because he trusts dictator Kim Jong Un. In a tweet while he was in Japan, Trump also espoused a view that is at odds with his host country. “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me.”

Japan had said that North Korea’s recent test of short range missiles amounted to a violation of United Nations resolutions. And Trump’s own national security adviser John Bolton agreed with that assessment, telling reporters on Saturday there was “no doubt” that the missile test violated Security Council resolutions.

Vipin Narang, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is an expert on nuclear proliferation and North Korea, said that Trump’s message was “disturbing” for one key reason. “There is a lot that is really disturbing here, but the most important bit is ‘Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me’,” Narang wrote. “Kim never promised to unilaterally disarm, and the problem is Trump continues to believe he did. THAT is why this is so dangerous.”

[Slate]

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