Whistleblower Complaint Involves Trump Communication With Foreign Leader

Details emerge of complaint that led to standoff between intelligence director and Democrats

A whistleblower complaint that has prompted a standoff between the U.S. intelligence community and Democrats in Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, a person familiar with the matter said.

It couldn’t be determined which foreign leader the complaint says Mr. Trump engaged in a conversation with.

The House Intelligence Committee has been gripped in an unusual legal battle with the acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, over the complaint. The intelligence community’s inspector general has deemed the complaint a matter of urgent concern, according to the Democratic chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff.

Mr. Trump disputed that he had said anything inappropriate in a call with a foreign leader.

“Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!” he tweeted on Thursday. “Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially “heavily populated” call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!”

The White House declined to comment on the whistleblower complaint on Thursday. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The substance of the complaint was previously reported by the Washington Post.

Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire in 2018, before his eventual appointment to the post. PHOTO: RON SACHS/ZUMA PRESS

Mr. Schiff issued a subpoena last week to Mr. Maguire regarding the complaint while suggesting the issues divulged by the complainant were being withheld to protect Mr. Trump or other administration officials.

Mr. Maguire initially appeared to rebuff the subpoena but Mr. Schiff said late Wednesday he had agreed to testify in an open hearing next week.

The inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Michael Atkinson, a Trump appointee, met Thursday morning with the committee in a closed session.

Mr. Atkinson’s urgency in dealing with the whistleblower complaint, which his office received on Aug. 12, was undercut by a determination by the office’s general counsel that the complaint concerned conduct by someone outside the intelligence community, and as a result didn’t rise to the level of an “urgent concern” that by law would require the complaint be transmitted to Congress.

But Mr. Atkinson “determined that this complaint is both credible and urgent, and that it should be transmitted to Congress under the clear letter of the law,” Mr. Schiff said Wednesday. “The committee places the highest importance on the protection of whistleblowers and their complaints to Congress.”

Mr. Trump had a number of conversations with foreign leaders in the weeks leading up to the filing of the whistleblower complaint, including a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 31.

Mr. Trump also received letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the summer and has held meetings with the leaders of Pakistan, Qatar and the Netherlands.

Mr. Trump traveled to Japan in June for the Group of 20 summit, where he met with world leaders including Mr. Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. During the trip he had an impromptu meeting with Mr. Kim at the border between North Korea and South Korea.

Write to Dustin Volz at dustin.volz@wsj.com