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Trump Whistleblower Complaint: Everything You Need to Know

September 20, 2019, 5:06 PM UTC

A whistleblower in the intelligence community has filed a complaint regarding a conversation between President Trump and a foreign leader.

During the conversation, Trump made a “promise” to this leader that the whistleblower saw as “so troubling” that the person “filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community,” according to a Wednesday report from The Washington Post

But what does all this mean? Here’s what happened.

The Whistleblower Complaint

Sometime in the period before August 12, Trump spoke to a foreign leader.

During the conversation, he said something that an intelligence official was privy to, and deemed an abuse of power, a crime, or a threat to national security.

On August 12, this official filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general (ICIG), as the law requires. 

Whistleblowers’ Protection Act

The Intelligence Community Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (ICWPA) dictates that after the ICIG receives such a complaint, he or she must, within 14 days, determine whether the complaint is credible and of “urgent concern.” 

From there, the ICIG must submit the complaint to the Director of National Intelligence, who in turn is required to share the complaint with the Congressional intelligence committees within seven days. 

But that isn’t what happened. 

When acting DNI Joseph Maguire received the complaint from ICIG Michael Atkinson, he took the complaint to the Justice Department instead of to Congress. By doing so, he has impeded the process as stipulated by the law, preventing both the whistleblower and the ICIG from informing Congress about the details of the complaint. 

While Atkinson is not allowed to circumvent the DNI and tell Congress himself, he was sufficiently uncomfortable with Maguire’s response that he chose to inform the House and Senate intelligence committees of the existence of the complaint, without revealing its contents. He appeared in a classified hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, but was barred from providing any details about the substance of the complaint. 

Schiff issues subpoena for complaint

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has issued a subpoena to obtain the complaint but Maguire has thus far refused.

“That whole purpose is being frustrated here because the director of national intelligence has made the unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress,” Schiff told reporters Thursday. 

Schiff further added that there is an attempt within the Trump administration to make a “claim that privilege may apply.”

Is Ukraine involved?

While the details of the complaint remain undisclosed, speculation has abounded as to who or which countries are involved.

Trump spoke with leaders of a number of countries in the weeks prior to Aug. 12, but a Thursday evening report from The Washington Post suggests that it involves Ukraine. 

The report notes that Trump did in fact speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed. A Ukrainian government readout of the call says that Trump suggested the country could improve its image and “complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.” 

The call, the Post adds, “is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign.”

Democrats were also made aware of the fact that the White House was simultaneously reportedly “slow-walking a military assistance package for Kiev,” which they intend to investigate. 

During Thursday’s briefing, ICIG Atkinson said that the complaint involved “multiple actions,” which suggests that more than one matter—or country—could be at the center of this.

What does this have to do with Joe Biden?

On Thursday, Trump deemed the entire matter “Fake News” on Twitter.

“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!” he wrote.  

He went on to question whether anyone is “dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Trump added that “it doesn’t matter what I discussed,” but encouraged them to “look into” Biden.

He continued on Twitter that “The Radical Left Democrats and their Fake News Media partners, headed up again by Little Adam Schiff, and batting Zero for 21 against me, are at it again!” Trump went on to claim that no one else has come forward about the conversation because “there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!”

What happens next?

Following the closed-door hearing on Thursday, Schiff said that the House Intelligence Committee will “look at whatever remedies” they have. In the meantime, however, Maguire is due to testify before the committee in an open session next week.

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