WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – A second intelligence official who was alarmed by US President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine is weighing whether to file his own formal whistleblower complaint and testify to Congress, according to two people briefed on the matter.
The official has more direct information about the events than the first whistleblower, whose complaint that Mr Trump was using his power to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals touched off an impeachment inquiry.
The second official is among those interviewed by the intelligence community inspector general to corroborate the allegations of the original whistleblower, one of the people said.
The inspector general, Mr Michael Atkinson, briefed lawmakers privately on Friday (Oct 4) about how he substantiated the whistleblower’s account. It was not clear whether he told lawmakers that the second official is considering filing a complaint.
A new complaint, particularly from someone closer to the events, would potentially add further credibility to the account of the first whistleblower, a CIA officer who was detailed to the National Security Council at one point.
He said that he relied on information from more than half a dozen American officials to compile his allegations about Mr Trump’s campaign to solicit foreign election interference that could benefit him politically.
Additionally, a reconstructed transcript of a July call between Mr Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy released by the White House also showed Mr Trump pressuring Ukraine.
Because the second official has met with Mr Atkinson’s office, it was unclear whether he needs to file a complaint to gain the legal protections offered to intelligence community whistleblowers.
Witnesses who speak with inspectors general are protected by federal law that outlaws reprisals against officials who cooperate with an inspector general.
Whistleblowers have created a new threat for Mr Trump. Though the White House has stonewalled Democrats in Congress investigating allegations raised in the special counsel’s report that Mr Trump obstructed justice, the president has little similar ability to stymie whistleblowers from speaking to Congress.
The Trump administration had blocked Mr Atkinson from sharing the whistleblower complaint with lawmakers but later relented.
Mr Trump and his allies have taken aim at the credibility of the original whistleblower by noting that he had secondhand knowledge. The president has also singled out his sources, saying that they were “close to a spy.”
“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr Trump told staffers at the US mission to the United Nations. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
Mr Atkinson has identified some indications of “arguable political bias” that the whistleblower had in favour of a rival candidate. But the inspector general said that the existence of that bias did not alter his conclusion that the complaint was credible.
Still, testimony from someone with more direct knowledge of Mr Trump’s efforts to use US foreign policy for potential political gain would most likely undermine conservatives’ attacks on the CIA officer’s credibility.
The House Intelligence Committee has taken the lead on the investigation into the whistleblower’s claims as part of the impeachment inquiry into whether Mr Trump abused his powers by using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal interests. Committee aides were still trying to arrange an interview with the CIA officer.
Among the matters the president asked Mr Zelenskiy to examine were a Ukrainian natural gas company connected to Mr Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Mr Trump has said publicly since the release of the complaint that the matter should be examined and added on Thursday that the Chinese government should look at dealings that Mr Hunter Biden had there.
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