VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.
WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump is uttering his oft-cited ‘Fake News’ accusation to rebut reports he made a ‘promise’ to a foreign leader that sparked an American intelligence official to file a whistleblower complaint.
“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 president tweeted on Thursday.
Trump, who has frequently accused the U.S. intelligence community of being part of a ‘Deep State’ opposition to his presidency, said he is aware that “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!”
Another Fake News story out there – It never ends! 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2019
Trump’s comments came as the House intelligence committee held a closed-door session with Michael Atkinson, the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general.
The Trump administration is declining to comment on reports that the whistleblower, whose identity has not been disclosed, is an intelligence officer detailed to the National Security Council and was authorized to listen in on the call or have access to its transcript.
Attorney Andrew Bakaj, a former CIA officer, who is “one of the top experts on these issues” and a national security whistleblower himself will represent the official, according to Mark Zaid who runs a Washington law firm specializing in national security.
Our Of Counsel, colleague & client @AndrewBakaj has been confirmed as attorney for #whistleblower. Andrew is one of the top experts on these issues & #natsec whistleblower himself. He authored @CIA's PPD-19/ICD 120 regs for CIA while at CIA OIG. https://t.co/LJQwfYYKj0
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) September 19, 2019
Lawmakers are hoping to learn more details of the secret whistleblower complaint that has sparked a legal battle between lawmakers and the Trump administration.
Atkinson told lawmakers on Thursday he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, reported the New York Times, attributing the information to people who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation.
Atkinson's testimony came the morning after the Washington Post reported the complaint involves communications between Trump and a foreign leader that mentioned a 'promise.'
The Post says its report was based on two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter, but it is not clear which leader was in communication with Trump or what the president may have promised.
White House records indicate Trump spoke with at least five foreign leaders in the preceding five weeks before the reported August 12 date of the complaint when he was at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.
They are Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.
The complaint has triggered the latest tug of war between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government.
The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is scheduled to testify publicly on September 26 before the House Intelligence Committee, but he is declining, so far, to provide details of the complaint to lawmakers. A lawyer for Maguire's office says the allegation in the complaint does not meet the “urgent concern” standard.
If the inspector general said the complaint is “urgent,” then it cannot wait, according to the committee’s chairman, Adam Schiff, who added that “someone is trying to manipulate the system” to keep information from the lawmakers.
This “likely involves either the president or people around him,” said Schiff.
The “law is written very clearly” on how to handle whistleblowers, according to the congressman, pushing back on the administration’s claim of privilege preventing relevant lawmakers from seeing the complaint.
His committee wants “to make sure national security is protected and this whistleblower is protected,” added Schiff. “If this whistleblower is not protected, then no whistleblower is protected.”
“I obviously trust the judgement” of Schiff, replied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked on Thursday about the matter.
Senator Mark Warner said Thursday he and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr “have made it very clear” that they expect Maguire and Atkinson to testify and “clear this issue up.”
Warner added that “you cannot end up with some circumstance where you have got a whistleblower muzzled.”