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Adam Schiff threatens legal action over access to whistleblower complaint

CNN logo CNN 9/20/2019 By Devan Cole, CNN

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Thursday that his committee may use legal action to get access to a whistleblower complaint involving President Donald Trump's communications with a foreign leader.

The threat could deepen the controversy surrounding the complaint, which is at the center of a dispute between acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and Congress. Schiff and other congressional Democrats are growing more and more agitated with the White House and Maguire, who have blocked their access to the complaint. Democratic lawmakers contend that Maguire is violating the law in refusing to turn over the complaint, something his office disputes.

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Schiff said the committee was exploring legal options.

"This is not a situation where we can afford to go through weeks or months of litigation in this court or that court. There is an urgency here that I think the courts will recognize," the California Democrat said. "I hope that's not necessary. And I hope that the director of national intelligence will reconsider."

He also pledged to "use whatever leverage we can. But at the end of the day, we are determined to validate the whistleblower process to make sure that people can expose wrongdoing."

CNN reported on Thursday that the White House has been advising the nation's top intelligence agency the complaint is outside intelligence activities covered by laws governing intelligence whistleblowers, according to three sources familiar with the matter. During a closed-door briefing with Schiff's committee Thursday, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, would only discuss the process for his handling of the whistleblower's concerns, the chairman said. Though lawmakers pressed him for details on the complaint, their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

The inspector general does not have the authority to discuss the details of the complaint with Congress because the DNI has not shared the actual report with the committee and had apparently not otherwise authorized Atkinson to share those details.

The intelligence whistleblower act does not allow for details to be provided until the actual complaint has been given to Congress, CNN legal contributor Steve Vladeck explained Thursday.

Although the official details of the complaint have not been provided to members of Congress, Atkinson told the panel during the briefing that it raised concerns about multiple actions but would not say if those instances involved Trump, according to sources familiar with the briefing.

According to one source, Atkinson referenced "a sequence of events" and "alleged actions" that took place. However, another source disputed that the IG provided substantive details regarding the whistleblower claim. The whistleblower's complaint deals at least in part with Ukraine, The New York Times and Washington Post reported Thursday night.

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