Sen. Murphy: Trump’s Ukraine call underscores need for House impeachment inquiry
According to the Justice Department, the original whistleblower account of President Trump’s actions on Ukraine raised the possibility of a criminal act by Trump, related to campaign finance. But federal prosecutors reportedly decided that they could not identify a campaign finance violation from the two men's phone call. John Yang learns more from Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post.
And, as we said, there are many questions about the role of the Department of Justice in all of this.
John Yang is here to examine that.
Judy, not only did the attorney general's name come up several times in that memo. There are new details about what the Justice Department did in all of this.
Devlin Barrett covers national security and law enforcement for The Washington Post.
Devlin Barrett, let's get right into this.
Whistle-blower complaints under the law are from the intelligence community, are supposed to go to Congress. How did this one end up at the Justice Department?
Well, it's a pretty complicated path, but essentially what happens is, once the complaint is made, folks in the intelligence community question whether this is a valid whistle-blower complaint, because the president, obviously, is not a member of the intelligence community.
He's not an employee of one of those agencies. So what happens is, they get legal advice from the Justice Department. And what the Justice Department says is that, no, this is not a valid legal complaint, because it doesn't — the whistle-blower rules don't really apply to conduct of the president.
But, interestingly, and in some ways more importantly, the Justice Department says, but there may be a criminal violation here, so we need to look at that, so we're — we, the Justice Department, are going to take a look at what happened here and see if there's reason to pursue a criminal investigation.
Criminal violation of what?
Campaign finance law.
The question that was immediately presented by the whistle-blower's complaint is, is the president seeking a thing of value from a foreign entity, which is a violation under campaign finance law?
And that question quickly turned into, could you characterize an investigation by a foreign government as a thing of value? And that's the question they were wrestling with.
And what was the timing of all this? When did it get to Justice, and when did the folks in Public Integrity clear — say there was no violation?
So it gets to the Justice Department in late August.
And, you know, different parts of the Justice Department get read in and get involved at different times. But, essentially, you're talking about the Public Integrity section with some input from the Criminal Division at the Justice Department and the National Security Division.
But, essentially, they look at this question. And, by last week, we're told — and that's important, because, obviously, a lot was happening on this issue publicly last week — but, last week, we're told the Justice Department decided there wasn't a criminal case to pursue here.
And what do we know about Attorney General Barr's role in all this? The Justice Department said in a statement that the president and the attorney general never discussed the Biden investigation. But what do we know about what role he played in this?
So, we're told by senior Justice Department officials that Barr was aware of the legal question that came in to the Justice Department early on in this process.
That is, is this a valid whistle-blower complaint? Can this be treated in the normal course of, you know, whistle-blower complaint handling?
So Barr was aware, roughly, that that was going on. However, they also say that Barr wasn't involved, once the question became a criminal question about campaign finance law, that Barr didn't participate in those discussions and he wasn't a part of that.
And are there any other questions of legal questions arising from this? Of course, we know impeachment is a political process.
But are there any other legal questions arising from all this?
Well, I think there's going to still be — obviously, there's a hearing tomorrow, and there will be a lot of, I think, tough back-and-forth about exactly what — individual officials, what opinions did they take on some of these issues?
But, as a legal matter, the Justice Department says this is, for them, case closed.
I don't know that, frankly, Democrats in the Congress are going to take that as an immediate answer. But the Justice Department views this as not a criminal issue for them to resolve.
Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post, thank you very much.
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