VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.
WHITE HOUSE — A complaint by a U.S. intelligence community whistleblower that has become the latest struggle between the executive and legislative branches of government involves President Donald Trump and Ukraine, according to The Washington Post.
The newspaper, citing two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter, reports Trump made a "promise" to a foreign leader, presumably Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The two presidents spoke two-and-a-half weeks before the Aug. 12 whistleblower filed the complaint with the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson.
The White House is not commenting but earlier Thursday, Trump invoked his oft-cited "Fake News" accusation to rebut reports he had promised something to a foreign leader that sparked the American intelligence official to file the 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.
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 three-hour closed-door session with Atkinson.
The Trump administration is also 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 to 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, said 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, according to published reports.
The inspector general also told lawmakers the complaint involved multiple acts, not just a single one, according to The New York Times, which also is reporting that a commitment by Trump to a world leader was not rooted in just a single communication.
Atkinson's testimony came the morning after The Washington Post initially reported the story.
Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, is scheduled to testify publicly on Sept. 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.
Usually, matters of urgent concern deemed credible are supposed to be forwarded to the intelligence oversight committees of the Senate and House. But Maguire prevented Atkinson from doing so, according to correspondence made public Thursday.
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," Schiff said.
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."
Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, said Thursday he and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, "have made it very clear" that they expect Maguire and Atkinson to testify and "clear this issue up."