Reaction To Congressional Testimony By Acting Director Of National Intelligence
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Over the last few days, we have learned a lot about that July phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. We've now seen a White House transcript of that call, which makes clear Trump was asking Ukraine's leader to dig up dirt on a political rival. And we have seen the whistleblower's seven-page complaint, which says the White House moved that transcript of the call onto a secure server to try to conceal it. One major detail we still do not know - the identity of the whistleblower who filed that complaint. But that hasn't stopped President Trump from trying to discredit that whistleblower's sources. The LA Times released audio of the president speaking at a private gathering on the sidelines of the U.N. summit in New York this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart - right? - the spies and treason. We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
MARTIN: We are joined now by David Gompert. He's a former acting director of National Intelligence. Thank you so much for being with us.
DAVID GOMPERT: Glad to be here.
MARTIN: Do you have any reason to believe that the whistleblower - or the people who were talking to him for that matter - have violated any laws in this process?
GOMPERT: No, I have no reason to believe that whatsoever. I think they were acting in good faith. And both the whistleblower and those who informed the whistleblower about the phone call, they were acting in good faith in the sense that they witnessed a serious - directly or indirectly - serious wrongdoing, a serious abuse of power. And they undertook to report it to the whistleblower and in turn, the whistleblower to the one channel open to him, which was the inspector general of the intelligence community.
MARTIN: Many news outlets are speculating about the whistleblower's identity. You heard the president there say he wants to know who the White House officials were who gave the whistleblower the information. Can you explain the implications - as you see it - of unveiling these names and identities?
GOMPERT: Well, I think that it would be a terrible mistake to identify the whistleblower by name or by - otherwise by identity, in the sense that it would obviously have some dangerous implications for that particular individual. But also it would serve as a deterrent not only for the remainder of this president's administration but for the long-term for other people who have witnessed serious wrongdoing to come forward.
MARTIN: Although how do we obtain a better understanding of the credibility of this person and their motivations without knowing where this person sits in the ecosystem so to speak?
GOMPERT: Right. Well, I have a pretty good idea, at least I can infer, where this individual sits. The National Security Council staff, including the watch officers in the Situation Room, these are the people who might - and I emphasize might - be listening in on a presidential conversation. These are professionals. They've been seconded to the NSC from different agencies, including from the intelligence community and the CIA. So I would have no reason to question the professionalism and the good faith of any of the individuals involved. And I think the most important point in that respect is that they did, in fact, witness a gross abuse of power. And that is what they were reporting. So one doesn't need to ascribe partisan motivations to individuals who acted in what they thought - and what I think - is in the national security interest.
MARTIN: So we should underscore that. That's the conclusion that the author of the complaint draws - that this was a gross abuse of power. You agree based on what you've seen.
GOMPERT: Yes, I do.
MARTIN: The complaint alleges that aides to President Trump took this - the notes, the transcript - of the phone call with the president of Ukraine and then tried to conceal it by putting it on this highly secure computer system. From what you know of the call and your intimate understanding of that particular system, would it have met the criteria for this kind of storage?
GOMPERT: Certainly not. From everything I've read about it, the system on which it was placed was an extremely secure partition system meant exclusively for highly sensitive national security information or intelligence information. And there was nothing about the content of the phone call - whatever else one thinks about it - that would suggest extreme national security or intelligence sensitivity. So to use a system like that would, in fact, corrupt such a system. But it would also invite others to use such systems - whether they happened to be in the White House or in the intelligence community - to use systems that are meant to protect national security secrets to protect politically damaging information.
MARTIN: Is it against the law to conceal documents that way?
GOMPERT: Well, it's against every principle of security and classification compartmentalization that I know. After over 40 years of experience in dealing with sensitive information, this did not come anywhere near the bar for treating it in such a fashion.
MARTIN: I want to ask you about Joseph Maguire. He's got the job that you once had. He's the acting director of National Intelligence. As you listened to his testimony yesterday in front of Congress, Democrats were accusing him of slow-rolling their request for the whistleblower complaint, or just blocking it altogether, because he took it to the White House and the Department of Justice first. Do you think that critique is fair?
GOMPERT: I think it's partly fair. I know Admiral Maguire, having worked with him 10 years ago. I have a high regard for his ability and no reason to question his integrity. I think he was being extremely careful. And his justification for that was that it was such an unusual and unprecedented complaint. I think going to the White House was a mistake. I would not have done that because the White House was clearly an interested and conflicted party. And even White House counsel, it does represent the president. Going to the Department of Justice I think is a tougher call. I think - I know that the reason we have the Office of Legal Counsel is to answer questions, like the one that he posed, which is whether executive privilege trumps the requirement to forward the complaint to the Congress.
MARTIN: But he kept saying it's extraordinary. Should a more unconventional complaint have prompted a more unconventional response from him?
GOMPERT: I can tell you what I would have thought and what I would have done.
MARTIN: Just briefly.
GOMPERT: My first conclusion would have been that this is a matter of grave concern, of grave impact on our national security and the credibility of the United States and the president. And therefore, come what may, I would not allow this document to be concealed. Whether Joe Maguire was going to see to it one way or another that it was shared, I can't say. And he didn't say. But I certainly would make sure that it was out.
MARTIN: David Gompert, former acting director of the director of National Intelligence, thank you for your time.
GOMPERT: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.