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English

When America’s President Can’t be Trusted

US President Donald Trump's efforts to bury a whistleblower complaint that has been referred to Congress by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community offers an early indication of what to expect in the 2020 presidential campaign. If US intelligence agencies do not toe Trump's line, they will become Public Enemy #1 for his base. 

ATLANTA – The White House is trying to prevent the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from viewing a whistleblower complaint detailing President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender to challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020. Given Trump’s refusal to cooperate with nearly a dozen other congressional investigations, this episode will most likely end in another stalemate. And polls suggest that the public is tuning out the Trump administration’s daily reality-TV dramas.

But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line.

There is no question that the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IGIC), Michael K. Atkinson, made the right call when he recommended that the whistleblower complaint be disclosed to Congress. Such referrals are his prerogative by law, and a decade of legal precedent further supports the decision. Nonetheless, the acting director of national intelligence (DNI), Joseph Maguire, is blocking the IGIC’s referral, claiming that it does not involve “urgent” intelligence, and instead concerns privileged – meaning, presidential – communications.

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