On Thursday morning, as acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire defended the Ukraine call whistle-blower before the House Intelligence Committee, Trump was voicing a divergent opinion at a private event before the staff of U.N. ambassador Kelly Craft at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York.
In his rambling, unprepared remarks, the president called the whistle-blower “almost a spy” for reporting information provided by, as the whistle-blower’s complaint states, “multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
At the U.N. event today, Trump said, “Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call — heard something and decided that he or she, or whoever the hell they saw — they’re almost a spy.” Trump then appeared to threaten the whistle-blower and his sources within the government: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” In audio obtained by the Los Angeles Times, members of the audience laughed nervously.
Of course, neither the whistle-blower nor his sources are anywhere near the ballpark of treason — except within the president’s l’etat c’est moi understanding of politics. There is established White House protocol for staffers to listen to the president’s phone conversations, and the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act and subsequent protections are in place specifically to protect intelligence officers in this very situation. In front of the House, Maguire said that the whistle-blower “did the right thing” and followed the law “every step of the way.” (If it makes the whistle-blower feel any better, he’s got a small crowd of peers that Trump has accused of treason: federal law enforcement, Democrats in Congress, and news organizations at large.)
Other targets in Trump’s morning talk included members of the media — whom he called “scum” and “animals” — and “Sleepy Joe Biden,” whom he called “dumb as a rock.” U.N. staffers who brought their children to the event weren’t thrilled by the president’s language, according to a source who spoke with NBC News, because they were under the impression that the appearance was supposed to be “a family-friendly event … Instead, the kids there saw Trump talking ominously about treason and spies and how we need to be rougher on people.” Considering the president’s past comments in front of children and his general reputation as the swear-y president, the parents may wish they took greater precautions.
More on the Trump-Ukraine Scandal
- Trump’s Impeachment Trial and the Verdict of History
- Trump Fires Impeachment Witnesses Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland
- Trump Impeachment Hearing Schedule: What’s Next?