Trump’s tweet echoed other Republicans, like House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who wrongly alleged that the intelligence community “secretly removed” a requirement that whistleblowers must provide “direct, first-hand knowledge of allegations” just “days before” the Ukraine whistleblower came forward.
The conspiracy theory appears to have started with a blog post at the far-right news outlet The Federalist. Trump tweeted a link to the story, titled “Intel Community Secretly Nixed Whistleblower Demand of First-Hand Info,” which falsely claimed that “the intelligence community secretly revised the formal whistleblower complaint form in August 2019 to eliminate the requirement of direct, first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing.”
The article included a screenshot of a new version of Form 401, the whistleblower complaint form, that asked whistleblowers to check a box saying “I have direct and personal knowledge,” or, “I heard about it from others.” But the article did not mention that the previous form had a “nearly identical field,” The Daily Beast reported.
Despite the incorrect information in the article, Trump declared himself vindicated.
“WOW, they got caught,” he wrote. “End the Witch Hunt now!”
Not quite. The office of the intelligence community’s inspector general, Trump-appointed Michael Atkinson, issued a rare statement debunking the false claims spread by the president.
"The whistleblower stated on the form that he or she possessed both first-hand and other information," the statement read. "The ICIG reviewed the information provided as well as other information gathered and determined that the complaint was both urgent and that it appeared credible. "
The statement said that the whistleblower had “direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct" and that Atkinson obtained other information backing up the allegations in his investigation of the complaint.
Not only was the information supported by other sources, the claim that a whistleblower previously needed to have first-hand information is false, the statement said.
"In fact," it said, "by law the Complainant ... 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."
Not only did Atkinson find information to support the whistleblower’s account, he and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, a Trump appointee, submitted criminal referrals to the Justice Department after investigating the allegations against Trump in the complaint. The DOJ did not pursue those allegations.
Though Trump has claimed that the whistleblower was “fake” and demanded to know “everything about the Whistleblower,” it was Atkinson, himself Trump appointee, who issued a previous statement revealing that his investigation confirmed the whistleblower’s report and ultimately triggered the House impeachment inquiry.
“Complainant was not a direct witness to President’s telephone call with the Ukrainian President on July 25, 2019,” the inspector general wrote on Aug. 26. “Other information obtained during the preliminary review, however, supports the Complainant’s allegation that, among other things, during the call the President ‘sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.’”