Over the last few days, a lie that began on the website The Federalist has spread throughout conservative media and has been repeated by Fox News and retweeted by Trump himself, the false claim that the whistleblower rules were changed right before the recent complaint was filed to do away with a requirement that the complaint be based on first-hand knowledge. The Inspector General for the Intelligence Community took the rare step of releasing a statement debunking the lie.
On September 27, Federalist co-founder Sean Davis published what first sounded like a major development in the Trump impeachment inquiry. According to Davis, intelligence community members who wished to file a whistleblower complaint were, until recently, “required” to provide firsthand knowledge of alleged wrongdoing. And the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry — who alleged that President Donald Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival — had not. The conspiratorial implication was that the rules had been secretly changed by the intelligence community to aid the whistleblower. Unfortunately for Davis, none of this was true.
Davis based his “requirement” claim on changes he declared were recently made to forms available to assist whistleblowers in filing their complaints. But the forms don’t create the requirements, which are instead set in a federal statute that makes no mention of a firsthand knowledge requirement. Furthermore, the whistleblower wrote in their complaint — which is publicly available for anybody to read — that they had not witnessed “most of” the wrongdoing, suggesting they actually provided both firsthand and secondhand knowledge. And the Intelligence Community inspector general (ICIG) office later confirmed that the whistleblower had also provided firsthand knowledge. (Also, as a general matter, the firsthand versus secondhand information claim had largely been rendered moot, as documents and statements released by the White House had already confirmed that the whistleblower’s central claims were accurate.)…
Davis’ false claim appeared on Fox News just hours after it was published and would become a mainstay of the network’s impeachment inquiry coverage. The theory was cited by the president’s lawyer. Trump himself promoted the theory twice on Twitter as a total absolution of wrongdoing, garnering a combined nearly 60,000 retweets:
On Sunday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the ranking member of the House oversight committee, pushed the claim on CNN’s State of the Union. Host Jake Tapper pushed back, saying, “There’s no evidence of that.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pushed the claim on CBS’ Face the Nation without pushback. Other prominent Republican politicians, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), promoted the false claim on social media.
In order to find an urgent concern “credible,” the IC IG must be in possession of reliable, first-hand information. The IC IG cannot transmit information via the ICWPA based on an employee’s second-hand knowledge of wrongdoing. This includes information received from another person, such as when a fellow employee informs you that he/she witnessed some type of wrongdoing. (Anyone with first-hand knowledge of the allegations may file a disclosure in writing directly with the IC IG.)
Similarly, speculation about the existence of wrongdoing does not provide sufficient basis to meet the statutory requirements of the ICWPA. If you think wrongdoing took place, but can provide nothing more than secondhand or unsubstantiated assertions, IC IG will not be able to process the complaint or information for submission as an ICWPA.
The Disclosure of Urgent Concern form the Complainant submitted on August 12, 2019 is the same form the ICIG has had in place since May 24, 2018, which went into effect before Inspector General Atkinson entered on duty as the Inspector General of the Intelligence
Community on May 29, 2018, following his swearing in as the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community on May 17, 2018. Although the form requests information about whether the Complainant possesses first-hand knowledge about the matter about which he or she is lodging
the complaint, there is no such requirement set forth in the statute. In fact, by law the Complainant – or any individual in the Intelligence Community who wants to report information with respect to an urgent concern to the congressional intelligence committees – need not possess first-hand information in order to file a complaint or information with respect to an urgent concern. The ICIG cannot add conditions to the filing of an urgent concern that do not exist in law. Since Inspector General Atkinson entered on duty as the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, the ICIG has not rejected the filing of an alleged urgent concern due to a
whistleblower’s lack of first-hand knowledge of the allegations.
The Complainant on the form he or she submitted on August 12, 2019 in fact checked two relevant boxes: The first box stated that, “I have personal and/or direct knowledge of events or records involved”; and the second box stated that, “Other employees have told me about events or records involved.”…
In short, the ICIG did not find that the Complainant could “provide nothing more than second-hand or unsubstantiated assertions,” which
would have made it much harder, and significantly less likely, for the Inspector General to determine in a 14-calendar day review period that the complaint “appeared credible,” as required by statute. Therefore, although the Complainant’s Letter acknowledged that the Complainant was not a direct witness to the President’s July 25, 2019, telephone call with the Ukrainian President, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community determined that other information obtained during the ICIG’s preliminary review supported the Complainant’s allegations.
Davis has been interviewed about this lie by Lou Dobbs, among others, and continues to defend it despite it being thoroughly debunked by the IG himself. So far, not one politician or media figure who promoted the lie have retracted it and admitted it was false. I’d be shocked if they did.