As House Democrats moved to begin a formal impeachment inquiry, the administration also prepared to release a redacted version of the whistle-blower’s complaint.
White House and intelligence officials were working out a plan on Tuesday to release a redacted version of the whistle-blower complaint that helped ignite the impeachment drive against President Trump and to allow the whistle-blower to speak with congressional investigators, people briefed on the matter said.
The move toward disclosing more information demanded by Democrats was part of a broader effort by the administration to quell the growing calls for Mr. Trump’s impeachment, and became public after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry.
Ms. Pelosi told fellow Democrats that in a private call that she had with the president on Tuesday, he said he was not responsible for the whistle-blower complaint being withheld from Congress, according to Democrats.
The precise content of the whistle-blower’s complaint has not been made public. It was found to be urgent and credible by the inspector general for the intelligence community, and is said to involve Mr. Trump and Ukraine. People familiar with the situation said the administration was putting the complaint through a declassification process and planned to release a redacted version within days.
It was filed Aug. 12, several weeks after Mr. Trump spoke by phone with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The whistle-blower’s identity has not been publicly disclosed.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that during the call with Mr. Zelensky, he brought up his longstanding demand for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden, who did business in Ukraine while his father was in office and playing a leading role in diplomacy with Ukraine.
The president and his aides had initially rejected congressional requests to examine the complaint, igniting intense criticism from House Democrats. But as pressure built in the House to begin impeachment proceedings, administration officials concluded that holding out would put them in a politically untenable position.
The appearance that they were stonewalling Congress, in their view, could prove more damaging than the whistle-blower’s account. Mr. Trump also believes that the allegations about him are not nearly as damning as they have been portrayed and that disclosing them will undercut the impeachment drive, people close to the president said.
Inside the White House, recriminations have begun over how the situation devolved to a point where a formal impeachment inquiry has been announced, people briefed on the situation said.
Some of his longtime critics blamed Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, for not acting more forcefully. But most blamed Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, for aggressively digging for dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine and inserting himself into official dealings with a Ukrainian official through the State Department — as well as his public statements about his efforts.
The administration’s decision to seek ways to defuse some of the tension over the whistle-blower was a striking turnabout. Intelligence community lawyers sent a letter to the whistle-blower’s lawyers on Tuesday, indicating that the office was trying to work out the issues that would allow the whistle-blower to speak with Congress.
Andrew P. Bakaj, a lawyer for the whistle-blower, had sent a letter to the director of national intelligence earlier on Tuesday, saying that his client wanted to meet with members of Congress but needed the office’s approval.
“We applaud the decision to release the whistle-blower complaint as it establishes that, ultimately, the lawful whistle-blower disclosure process can work,” said Mr. Bakaj and I. Charles McCullough III, another lawyer for the whistle-blower.
Intelligence community lawyers have had discussions with the White House and the Justice Department officials about how the whistle-blower can share his complaint without infringing on issues like executive privilege.
Allowing the whistle-blower to meet with congressional investigators would provide the whistle-blower an opportunity to share at least some details of the complaint he filed, even if the full document is not handed over to Congress.
Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, said Tuesday that he would work with Congress and the administration to find a resolution in the standoff over congressional access to the complaint.
In a sharply worded statement, Mr. Maguire pushed back on an assertion by Ms. Pelosi that he had acted illegally by withholding the whistle-blower complaint from Congress.
“In light of recent reporting on the whistle-blower complaint, I want to make clear that I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way,” Mr. Maguire said.
Mr. Maguire also appeared to defend the whistle-blower, saying that all members of the country’s intelligence agencies “have a solemn responsibility to do what is right, which includes reporting wrongdoing.”
The administration had originally barred the whistle-blower’s complaint from being shared with Congress on the grounds that it did not meet the legal definitions of a matter under the purview of office of the director of national intelligence.
But by Tuesday, the administration was working on several fronts to disclose key elements of the material sought by congressional Democrats. Mr. Trump said as he attended meetings at the United Nations on Tuesday that he would release a transcript of his call on July 25 with Mr. Zelensky.
The decision to release a transcript of the call made seeking a compromise on the whistle-blower easier, a person familiar with the matter said. But the information in the complaint goes beyond the material in the transcript, meaning there are still potential issues of White House executive privilege that need to be resolved, the person said.
A spokeswoman for the office of the director of national intelligence declined to comment.
Since before the confrontation over the whistle-blower complaint became public, Mr. Maguire has been trying to broker a compromise that would allow some or all of the information to go to Congress to resolve the crisis.
Friends of Mr. Maguire’s have said he has felt caught between his duty to inform Congress on the one hand and his legal advisers and the Justice Department on the other. They had said he was not legally permitted to share the information.
The White House deliberations came as Democrats announced that they were moving forward with a formal impeachment investigation of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, according to people close to him, believes Democrats will overplay their hand and that once the transcript is released, it will not prove to be a problem for him.
But the whistle-blower’s complaint is said to extend beyond the one phone call, and Mr. Trump has had at least one other phone call with Mr. Zelensky, on April 21.
Can’t anybody here play this game?
The Trump administration, if you haven’t noticed, is undergoing one of its frequent paroxysms of incompetence.
On the border, the administration holds hundreds of migrant children in deplorable conditions: filthy, frightened and hungry. The president ordered and then called off a massive immigration raid, and, in the middle of the chaos, the administration’s top border security official resigned Tuesday.
Overseas, the administration is stumbling toward war with Iran, ordering and then canceling an attack. Iran on Tuesday said the White House is “afflicted by mental retardation,” and Trump responded by threatening Iran with “obliteration.”
Here in Washington, Trump just appointed a new press secretary for the third time and a White House communications director for the seventh time. He refuses to say whether he has confidence in his FBI director, his third, and he’s publicly feuding with the Federal Reserve chairman he appointed over whether Trump can fire him. Meantime, Trump is defying a Trump-appointed watchdog who called for the firing of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway for illegal political activities, and he’s brushing off the latest credible accusation of sexual misconduct by saying the accuser is “not my type.” And Trump’s protocol chief is quitting on the eve of the Group of 20 summit, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday, amid allegations that he carried a whip in the office.
The chaos takes on many forms, but most of it stems from a single cause: Trump’s determination to run the country like “The Apprentice.”
The common thread to the mayhem and bungling is Trump’s insistence on staffing his government with officials serving in temporary, “acting” roles at the pleasure of the president and without the stature or protection of Senate confirmation. This allows Trump to demand absolute subservience from appointees. Because he can replace them at will, they don’t contradict him. But this tentative status also means they lack authority within their agencies and the stature to stand up to Trump when he’s wrong.
It’s no mere coincidence that the border debacle is the work of Trump’s Homeland Security Department, where every major border- and immigration-related agency is led by an “acting” official. Trump’s acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, just resigned after only two months on the job. The Post’s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report that he will be replaced by the current acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mark Morgan (who got the job after praising Trump’s policies on Fox News). Morgan, in turn, has only been on the job for a couple of months since Trump fired yet another acting director of ICE. Trump had also ousted his DHS secretary and his head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and he has tabbed an “immigration czar” who has not yet accepted the job.
It’s no mere coincidence, either, that the Iran debacle is occurring at a time when the Pentagon has been leaderless since Jim Mattis resigned as defense secretary in December. Patrick Shanahan had been the longest-serving “acting” defense secretary in history until last week, when Trump named another acting secretary, Mark Esper. Both men were reportedly with Trump when he ordered the Iran attack, which he later canceled after learning about possible casualties. It’s hard to imagine Trump ordering up a military attack on Mattis’s watch without first getting a casualty estimate.
And it’s no mere coincidence that the man at the fulcrum of chaotic White House decision-making, chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, also serves in “acting” status. Politico’s Nancy Cook reports that Trump is tiring of Mulvaney (he had the nerve to cough during a Trump TV interview), though he might not yet replace him with a fourth chief of staff, because he likes Mulvaney’s “hands-off approach” to Trump’s “whims and decision-making style.” If he weren’t “hands-off,” he’d be fired.
Trump is unabashed in his preference for this “Apprentice”-style, “you’re fired” leadership. It’s a theme of a new book about Trump’s Cabinet, “The Best People,” by Yahoo News national correspondent Alexander Nazaryan. Of his fondness for acting officials, Trump told Nazaryan: “It gives me a lot of leeway. It gives me great flexibility. I do like it. It’s such a big deal to get people approved nowadays. . . . We have actings, and we’re seeing how we like them.”
In other words, the administration is run by people on perpetual tryout, perpetual probation, unable to make long-term plans or to command the respect of those they (nominally) lead. The Federal Aviation Administration, which botched its handling of the Boeing 737 Max crashes, has been led by acting officials. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which bungled the recall of Fisher-Price’s Rock ’n Play bassinet, has been run by an acting chairwoman. (She announced last week she will step down at the end of her term in October.)
Now, Trump’s “actings” are causing babies to go hungry, and they may soon bumble us into war with Iran. But that’s okay, because Trump likes the “flexibility.”