By Elad Halim
On Dec. 4, the House Judiciary Committee began the second phase of the impeachment inquiry against the president.
Prior to the start of phase 2, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was to provide the transcripts of the witnesses who testified during the panel’s closed-door depositions to the Judiciary Committee.
Interestingly, and as recently reported, Schiff has kept one particular transcript under wraps, which is the testimony provided by Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. While Schiff has failed to release this transcript, it’s clearly relevant to the impeachment probe and should be released immediately.
By way of a reminder, Atkinson notified Congress about the whistleblower complaint stemming from President Donald Trump’s telephone call with the president of Ukraine. In his closed-door testimony, Atkinson indicated that the complaint was of “urgent concern.” As such, one obvious follow-up question would revolve around why he believed it was so urgent.
Given Atkinson’s role in this matter, and the fact that his decision to notify Congress triggered the impeachment inquiry, his testimony is highly relevant.
Schiff shouldn’t be permitted to “hide” Atkinson’s testimony. While Atkinson would, arguably, be prohibited from disclosing the name of the whistleblower in accordance with the applicable U.S. Code, Schiff could still release the transcript and redact the name of the whistleblower or other identifying information (this would seriously undermine Schiff’s recent claim that he was unaware of the whistleblower’s identity).
In other words, the circumstances under which the complaint was filed and any purported meetings between the whistleblower, Schiff, and/or his staff appear(s) to be fair game.
Fortunately, there have been calls for Schiff to release the transcript. For example, on Nov. 29, investigative journalist Paul Sperry posted the following tweet:
“DEVELOPING: Why is Schiff still withholding transcript of ICIG Michael Atkinson’s Oct 4 closed-door testimony which lasted 8+ hours? He’s released 15 witness transcripts but is still hiding Atkinson’s. Also, what’s Atkinson’s connection to Obama officials including David Laufman?”
In response, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), tweeted:
“I know why @paulsperry_It’s because I asked IG Atkinson about his “investigation” into the contacts between Schiff’s staff and the person who later became the whistleblower. The transcript is classified “secret” so Schiff can prevent you from seeing the answers to my questions”
If there’s any legitimacy to Ratcliffe’s response, this could be significant for several reasons. First, if Schiff or any of his staff played an active role in the whistleblower’s decision to file the complaint, this is highly relevant and could further point to a politically motivated process. Atkinson’s testimony could provide information about that very issue.
Second, during the public portion of the impeachment inquiry, Schiff indicated that he didn’t know the name or identity of the whistleblower. The transcript of Atkinson’s testimony could shed light on this specific question. If Schiff’s denial turns out to be false, Schiff will have some serious explaining to do.
Additionally, it’s improper to knowingly support, encourage, or participate in the filing and/or pursuit of a false claim. Clearly, if Atkinson investigated purported contact(s) between Schiff, his staff, and the alleged whistleblower, his findings could be highly relevant if they revealed that the whistleblower was pressured to file the complaint or that the complaint was filed for an improper purpose (i.e., political animus, etc.).
Finally, if Atkinson’s testimony or investigation contains evidence that is “exculpatory” in nature (i.e., it proves the fraudulent or baseless nature of this impeachment push), it should immediately be disclosed. Atkinson’s response to Ratcliffe’s question would potentially help in this regard.
Of course, Schiff’s testimony would also provide a treasure trove of information with regard to these various issues. Yet, to date, Schiff hasn’t agreed to testify under oath.
Schiff’s decision not to release Atkinson’s transcript is suspicious and raises serious concerns about what the transcript could reveal. Atkinson is the one who got the “impeachment ball” rolling. He was questioned for many hours and was also asked about the results of his investigation into any contacts between Schiff, his staff, and the alleged whistleblower.
This information is highly relevant and should be disclosed.