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Trump denies making comment to foreign leader that triggered whistleblower report

According to the Washington Post, the president’s call included a “promise” that was concerning enough to initiate the complaint. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images President Donald Trump on Thursday dismissed reports that an intelligence official was so concerned about an alleged “promise” the president made to a foreign leader in a phone call that the official…

Donald Trump

According to the Washington Post, the president’s call included a “promise” that was concerning enough to initiate the complaint. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Thursday dismissed reports that an intelligence official was so concerned about an alleged “promise” the president made to a foreign leader in a phone call that the official filed a whistleblower complaint.

“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!” the president wrote in a tweet, calling the controversy “another Fake News story out there.”

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“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,” he asked. “I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!”

“It never ends!” Trump wrote, complaining in another tweet that the explosive allegations were yet another example of “Presidential Harassment!”

The president’s denial came as the intelligence community’s inspector general briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint. Its existence first came to light earlier this week when committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) demanded it be turned over to Congress.

The contents of the complaint were shrouded in secrecy from lawmakers and the public alike until Wednesday evening. Both The Washington Post and NBC News reported new details about the complaint in question, notably that it centered on the president’s communications with a foreign leader and that it stemmed from a phone call. According to the Post, the call included a “promise” that was concerning enough to initiate the complaint.

The whistleblower is being represented by Andrew P. Bakaj, a former CIA officer and managing partner at the Compass Ross Legal Group, a national security law firm.

Bakaj, who formerly worked as a lawyer in the CIA Office of the Inspector General, declined to comment on his client or the Post’s story. Others familiar with the whistleblower’s complaint, however, confirmed its broad outlines and that it involves the president’s communications.

The intelligence community inspector general deemed the complaint “urgent” and credible, which Schiff asserted should have triggered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s whistleblower statute, which requires such complaints to be passed along to lawmakers.

But acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire intervened to block the documents from being transmitted to lawmakers, according to Schiff, diverting the complaint to the Justice Department and telling Schiff’s panel he would refuse to share it because it involved someone outside the intelligence community and might involve matters of confidentiality and privilege.

Maguire’s general counsel insisted in a letter to Schiff this week that the Maguire had followed the letter of the law in blocking the transmission of the complaint, arguing that the whistleblower statute governing his agency only applies when the complaint involves a member of the intelligence community.

Wednesday’s reports were also the first time Trump’s involvement has been disclosed in what could blossom into a major political controversy. In his letter to Maguire this week, Schiff accused the intel chief of withholding the complaint in order to protect the president. Also this week, Schiff issued a subpoena to force Maguire to produce the complaint.

The allegations are sure to further strain what is already an extremely tenuous relationship between the president and the intelligence community.

Most glaringly, Trump has publicly and repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Earlier this summer he responded to reports that the CIA had tried to recruit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s brother as an informant by announcing his opposition to such a plan. In 2017, the president is said to have revealed classified intelligence regarding U.S. operations in Syria to Russian diplomats while in the Oval Office.

The president has long sparred publicly with former intelligence community officials who served under President Barack Obama, including former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan. His battles with the intelligence community date back to hsi 2017 transition period, when he compared the nation’s spy agencies to Nazi Germany.

It is unclear which foreign leader Trump had been speaking to when he allegedly made the troubling promise, but the Post report notes that in the preceding five weeks before the whistleblower lodged their complaint, White House records showed communications between Trump and five world leaders. That list includes Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump spoke on the phone at the end of July. He also met with several foreign leaders at the White House and said he’d received multiple letters from North Korea’s Kim.

Blake Hounshell contributed to this report.

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