Attorney General

Scores of inspectors general criticize DOJ response to Ukraine whistleblower

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Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is among about 70 federal inspectors general who are criticizing the department’s conclusion that the Ukraine whistleblower complaint did not need to be turned over to Congress.

In an Oct. 22 letter released on Friday, the inspectors general are asking the Justice Department to withdraw or modify a Sept. 3 opinion by its Office of Legal Counsel, report the New York Times, USA Today and Politico.

The letter by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency said the legal opinion “could seriously undermine the critical role whistleblowers play in coming forward to report waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct across the federal government.”

Last month’s opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the whistleblower complaint did not meet the definition of a matter of urgent concern that needed to be transmitted to Congress. The opinion said the applicable reporting statute applies only to the funding or operation of intelligence activity under the authority of the director of national intelligence.

The whistleblower had expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, who was a paid board member of a Ukraine gas company.

The legal opinion said the president is not a member of the intelligence community, and the whistleblower complaint does not relate to an intelligence activity under the supervision of the director of national intelligence.

The letter by the inspectors general says the narrow definition of “urgent concern” raises questions about whether the whistleblower is protected from retaliation.

The inspectors general say the director of national intelligence has a broad legal mandate to address intelligence matters related to national security and to instances of possible foreign involvement in elections. That broad mandate supports the conclusion that reporting was required, the letter says.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, who heads the Office of Legal Counsel, responded to the inspectors general. In his letter, Engel said the legal opinion did not interpret any statutory provisions protecting whistleblowers from retaliation “and nothing in our opinion alters the protections that Congress has provided.”

The inspector general for intelligence had sought to forward the whistleblower complaint to Congress and informed the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint. The legal opinion had held up transmission of the complaint until a compromise was reached. Congress received the whistleblower complaint, and an unclassified version of the complaint was released to the public.

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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