Republicans seize on reports of whistleblower consulting with Intel Committee

Republicans seize on reports of whistleblower consulting with Intel Committee
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE and a cadre of GOP lawmakers are seizing on a report focused on the whistleblower’s actions before filing a complaint regarding the president’s dealings with Ukraine, claiming that it undermines House Democrats’ formal impeachment inquiry.

The unified effort came in the hours after The New York Times published a new report that revealed the whistleblower corresponded with a House Intelligence Committee aide before filing the complaint. The Times noted in its report that the staffer later shared parts of the whistleblower's concerns with the panel's chairman, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial The Memo: Day One shows conflicting narratives on impeachment MORE (D-Calif.). The staffer did not share the figure's identity with Schiff. 

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The aide also reportedly advised the figure to find a lawyer and to file a formal whistleblower complaint, details Schiff confirmed in a tweet following the report. 

"When a whistleblower seeks guidance, staff advises them to get counsel and go to an IG," Schiff said on Twitter. "That’s what they’re supposed to do."

But the revelations that Schiff knew details about the whistleblower's concerns prompted several top GOP officials to suggest that something more nefarious had taken place, even as intelligence committee officials and national security experts noted that the whistleblower followed standard procedures. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Mark Mellman: A failure of GOP leadership MORE (R-Calif.) claimed that the revelations proved Schiff had been "orchestrating with the whistleblower."

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel called the disclosure a "stunning indictment of this impeachment charade," suggesting that Schiff colluded with the whistleblower before the complaint was filed. 

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown MORE (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called on Schiff to step down as chairman immediately for failing to share information related to the whistleblower with the committee. Rep. Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Trump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' MORE (R-La.), the minority whip, claimed that the new revelations divulged a "deep state scheme."

President Trump, who has frequently denounced Schiff, said during a news conference that The New York Times's report showed the congressman was a "fraud."

"I think it’s a scandal that he knew before. He probably helped write it," Trump said without providing any evidence for his claim. 

The barrage of reactions from GOP officials came as Trump faces mounting scrutiny from Democrats over a whistleblower complaint that accuses him of enlisting Ukraine's help in his 2020 reelection efforts. Revelations regarding Trump's interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prompted Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now MORE (D-Calif.) to announce a formal impeachment inquiry last week. 

A House Intelligence committee official heavily pushed back on the narrative Republicans spread regarding the whistleblower's contacts with Schiff's panel.  

"The assertion by President Trump that Chairman Schiff participated in any way in the drafting or writing of the complaint is unequivocally false," the aide told The Hill. "At no point did the Committee review or receive the complaint in advance."

An aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee's Republican majority also told The Hill that it is standard operating procedure of the committee to direct potential whistleblowers to the relevant inspector general (IG). 

"On a bipartisan basis, the Senate Intelligence Committee directs potential whistleblowers to the relevant IG," the aide said.  

Susan Hennessey, a former attorney in the Office of General Counsel of the National Security Agency, remarked on Twitter that the reason "we have whistleblower laws is so that people can report abuse and have their identity protected."

"This person shared the outlines of the issue and sought advice on the best way to communicate details to congress," she said. "Its response was to use the IG channel."

Mieke Eoyang, a former Democratic House Intelligence Committee staffer, also highlighted on Twitter that Schiff's actions showed he "went out of his way to not tip off the subjects of the complaint as to what he knew."

"This is called protecting the whistleblower," she said. 

New York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg clarified the newspaper's reporting in response to the House GOP leader's tweet, saying that it showed no evidence of Schiff working with the whistleblower.

"The whistleblower went to an intel committee staffer with a vague account of the complaint, and was told to file through proper channels," Rosenberg tweeted. "Schiff personally never knew the whistleblower’s identity. That’s hardly 'orchestrating' the complaint."

The dispute showcases the bitter divide between Republicans and Democrats as the House moves forward with an impeachment inquiry into Trump. Trump has frequently attacked Schiff in recent days and has gone so far as to call the Democrats' effort a "coup."