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I'm wondering why the news media focuses on the problem of whether or not Adam Schiff talked to the whistleblower before filing the complaint or not such as this.

I would appreciate it if somebody could explain it.

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On Trump-leaning side of the media, it's taken as evidence of some big Democratic conspiracy to bring down Trump. Trump himself claimed that Schiff "helped write" the whistleblower's complaint. This has been repeated by pro-Trump media personalities like Tucker Carlson, although even Carlson only presented the collaborative writing bit as "credible rumours"; but Carlson nevertheless claimed that Schiff "orchestrated" the whole thing "in secret". Similarly, Hannity said that the impeachment effort was "totally based on the whistleblower complaint that the shifty Schiff himself had a hand in creating, clearly." (Carlson and Hannity are two Fox News hosts/personalities with a big audience.)

On the other side, it was more of an issue that Schiff wasn't exactly transparent about those contacts, at least initially. And that was seen as a problem because procedural issues can provide ammunition to the pro-Trump side. As CNN put it

for Schiff, there is no room for error. Every move he makes, every word he utters, is scrutinized by Republicans and combed for mistakes -- however minor.

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    There's also the personal credibility issues surrounding the fact that Schiff explicitly disclaimed having any knowledge of the whistleblower or their complaint prior to its filing. His claims about that could be true, but they seem dubious considering that the WB is known / believed to have consulted the staff of Schiff's committee prior to filing the complaint. – John Bollinger Oct 12 at 15:07
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"We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower," he said. "We would like to, but I'm sure the whistleblower has concerns, that he has not been advised, as the law requires, by the inspector general or the director of national intelligence just as to how he is to communicate with Congress."

CNN Fact Check: Fact-checking Schiff's claim on speaking with the whistleblower

First of all, Schiff never spoke to the whistleblower. At one point he stated that they (his committee) didn't have a conversation with that individual. In the context of questioning the individual they knew was a whistleblower about what was deemed to be a legitimate and credible complaint, that is accurate.

However, early on in the process, the whistleblower did contact his office with concerns, and asked for guidance on what to do. They advised that individual to get an attorney, and to follow the internal procedures for filing a complaint for the IG to evaluate. The staff person who took the call mentioned the broad outlines of the call to Schiff.

The C.I.A. officer approached a House Intelligence Committee aide with his concerns about Mr. Trump only after he had had a colleague first convey them to the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Concerned about how that initial avenue for airing his allegations through the C.I.A. was unfolding, the officer then approached the House aide. In both cases, the original accusation was vague.

The House staff member, following the committee’s procedures, suggested the officer find a lawyer to advise him and meet with an inspector general, with whom he could file a whistle-blower complaint. The aide shared some of what the officer conveyed to Mr. Schiff. The aide did not share the whistle-blower’s identity with Mr. Schiff, an official said.

“At no point did the committee review or receive the complaint in advance,” he (Patrick Boland, Schiff spokesman) said. He said the committee received the complaint the night before releasing it publicly last week and noted that that came three weeks after the administration was legally mandated to turn it over to Congress. The director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, acting on the advice of his top lawyer and the Justice Department, had blocked Mr. Atkinson from turning over the complaint sooner.

In response to questions, spokeswomen for Senators Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mark Warner of Virginia, its Democratic vice chairman, said it was standard procedure to refer whistle-blowers to the relevant inspectors general.

Schiff Got Early Account of Accusations as Whistle-Blower’s Concerns Grew

The previous Chair, the GOP's Devin Nunes said, through his spokesman, that they get dozens of these kinds of inquiries every year. There is nothing to indicate that this was handled in any way differently than the many other general inquiries they receive and have to deal with.

“We receive whistleblower-type complaints both through the [Intelligence Community inspector general] — which includes complaints filed through the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act — and via individuals who approach the committee directly,” said Jack Langer, communications director for Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Those complaints number in the “dozens” each year, he added.

The Intercept: HOUSE INTELLIGENCE PANEL GETS DOZENS OF WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINTS EVERY YEAR

When Schiff dismissed the idea that they had specific, substantive discussions about the complaint with the person filing the complaint, he used much more general and broad language than that.

Is it an actual big deal? No. Because that kind of a very general referral to lodge the complaint with another entity, by the book, in no way would prejudice or allow Schiff or the Democrats to manipulate or manage the process. In the political and PR arena, does "actual" matter? Not as much as appearances, so he did give a window for people to claim/spin that he wasn't being candid.

However, pretty much everything in the complaint so far has mapped to what actually happened, to the point where the Trump Administration has confirmed those details while claiming them to be inaccurate, and that means that they need to muddy the waters. By casting rather weak and baseless claims about a corrupted process or a rigged system, they are hoping to de-legitimize the very serious matter of impeachment by claiming it is a political charade instead of a legitimate checking of an abuse of power and office of the President.

Republicans have gone even further to muddy the waters: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California charged that Schiff "just got caught orchestrating with the whistleblower before the complaint was ever filed," while Trump suggested at a news conference Wednesday that Schiff "probably helped write it.'

But an attorney representing the whistleblower confirmed what House Intelligence Committee staff have said, telling CNN no one from the committee helped the whistleblower write the complaint. Schiff's spokesman said Wednesday that the committee staff advised the whistleblower to contact the inspector general and seek legal counsel, but did not receive the complaint in advance.

CNN: Schiff cleans up after saying committee had no contact with whistleblower

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    We don't know if the two spoke or not. We do know what various people said did or didn't happen. – William Jockusch Oct 10 at 2:05
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    While I like this answer, it would benefit from some references, considering how contentious the topic is. – Arcanist Lupus Oct 10 at 5:35
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    Here's a fox interview with Nunes where he explains that Schiff never spoke to the whistleblower directly, that his staff only got some initial vague details, and the show host mentions just prior that the staff directed the whistleblower to get an attorney and follow procedure: foxnews.com/transcript/… – BurnsBA Oct 10 at 14:31
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    @WilliamJockusch - Except that no one is alleging that Schiff spoke directly, himself, with the whistleblower. We don't know that he's not the person who killed JFK, MLK Jr., that he's not a masked ISIS person who beheaded innocent people. That's the problem with demanding proof of the negative. No one is accusing him of personally talking with the whistleblower, or, at least, no one with even a whiff of a suggestion of evidence that it even MIGHT have happened is. – PoloHoleSet Oct 10 at 15:38
  • Well, in that case, your answer could say that. Though it might be better to phrase it differently ("I've looked into the matter, and I haven't seen anyone alleging that Schiff spoke directly with the whistleblower . . .") – William Jockusch Dec 1 at 21:51
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In the context of impeachment, something is a big deal if the voters think it is. The voters, after all, have the power to re-elect both the President and the Congress, or not. So their opinions matter. Something that swings even 1% of voters one way or the other is likely to change the results of some elections and could even swing the 2020 Presidency.

Schiff says there was no direct communication. If this is proven to be a lie, it will reflect poorly on the Democrats.

The Politifact piece looks to me like evidence that there was communication, but not necessarily direct communication. Thus Schiff's statement may be true (they didn't speak directly) yet also leaving out important context (they could be acting as part of a coordinated plan without direct communication). Obviously each voter will decide for themselves what to make of that, but one suspects that some won't like it.

  • About that fact checking (and pinocchios awarded to Schiff) see also politics.stackexchange.com/questions/46342/… – Fizz Oct 10 at 2:41
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    Re: "If this is proven to be a lie..." I don't think that is the case in today's culture. Both sides of issues now require substantive proof from the other side to the point where almost nothing will suffice to dispel support for someone's tribal loyalties. – Jeff Lambert Oct 10 at 12:03
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    True for many people, but I still think it matters. Some voters are in the process of choosing a tribe. This might influence them. Also there are still swing voters. Think of the regions that supported both Obama and Trump. – William Jockusch Oct 10 at 13:03
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By itself, the fact that Adam Schiff’s office was in contact with the whistleblower is not a big deal. The issue is one of disclosure. Adam Schiff’s office admitted that it should have been more clear about prior contacts with the whistleblower.

Suppose you are being sued. You learn that the opposing party has been in contact with the judge, and said judge did not disclose that fact. Of course, the contact was probably harmless. Maybe the opposing party just wanted to get some general information about the trial process. But if the trial goes against you, wouldn’t you want to take the opportunity to discredit the judge? What proves that the contact was harmless? If the judge failed to disclose the contact, what else is there? Is there any evidence that the wording of the complaint was not suggested by the judge for maximum impact?

So, as often, the problem is one of disclosure. The contact itself is unimportant.

  • Schiff is more like the prosecutor here than the judge. The judge would be the Senate. – Fizz Oct 14 at 2:16
  • "The closest criminal analogy to a House impeachment inquiry is a grand jury proceeding, potentially leading to indictment." politics.stackexchange.com/a/46481/18373 – Fizz Oct 14 at 2:23
  • By itself, the fact that Adam Schiff’s office was in contact with the whistleblower is not a big deal. It may be. If the whistleblower did contact Rep. Schiff's office prior to filing his complaint, and did not include that fact on the form, the whistleblower committed perjury. – Just Me Nov 6 at 2:09
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It's a "big deal" because the Urgent Concern Disclosure form, part 4 states:

Please indicate in this section if you have filed your complaint with any other entity, including other Inspector General offices, and/or Members of Congress. If you have contacted other entities, clearly identify the agency, office, or command, and provide your understanding of the current status of your matter.

...

and part 6 states, in part:

I certify that all of the statements made in this complaint (including any continuation pages) are true, complete, and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief. I understand that, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1001, knowingly and willfully making a false statement or concealing a material fact in any matter within the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch, including the ICIG, is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.00, imprisonment for up to five (5) years, or both.

In short, IF the whistleblower contacted Congress at all before filing the form, and IF he didn't disclose it on the form, he committed perjury.

Which would go right to his credibility.

That's why it's a big deal. If the whistleblower lied on the form, what else did he lie about?

It all depends on when the contact occurred, and what is on the form. Both details are, as far as I know, still unclear.

Update on Nov 23, 2019:

It's now an indisputable fact that the whistleblower did contact the House Intelligence Committee staff prior to filing his complaint.

Ukraine whistleblower sought to explain Schiff committee contact to intel watchdog, according to documents

CBS News has reviewed documents that show the anonymous whistleblower reached out to the intelligence community watchdog on October 8 to clarify the nature of his or her contact with Democratic majority staff of the House Intelligence Committee before the complaint was filed.

The whistleblower acknowledged reaching out to the committee, but claimed that nothing substantial was discussed and that the staff member directed them to go through official channels, according to the "Memorandum of Investigative Activity," provided to House and Senate Intelligence Committee leadership by intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) Michael Atkinson. The form is dated October 18 and documents the October 8 outreach by the whistleblower.

So the story has moved from "no he didn't contact Congress despite what he signed under penalty of perjury" to "yes he did contact Congress but it was OK and here's my explanation."

If the original "the whistleblower did not contact Congress" was false, this current "explanation" has no credibility either.

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    I'm not the one who downvoted, but regarding perjury and/or loss of protection see politics.stackexchange.com/questions/46304/… – Fizz Nov 6 at 2:51
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    Well, no matter what the form says, the relevant law imposes no first-hand requirement. See dni.gov/files/ICIG/Documents/News/ICIG%20News/2019/…, bottom of page 1/top of page 2: "Although the form requests information about whether the Complainant possesses first-hand knowledge about the matter about which he or she is lodging the complaint, there is no such requirement set forth in the statute." – Just Me Nov 6 at 11:47
  • It looks like the whistleblower did disclose it in the October 18 investigation. Also from the article you've added "The whistleblower felt that "[b]ased on getting guidance on a procedural question, and that no substance of the actual disclosure was discussed, COMPLAINANT did not feel, based on the way the form question was worded, that it was necessary to check that box."" So I'm not sure your conclusion on perjury is warranted. We'll see if gets charged with anything. – Fizz Nov 23 at 21:02
  • @Fizz I didn't think I came to a conclusion on perjury. I was explaining why it could be the "big deal" asked in the question itself - IF the whistleblower omitted any contact from the complaint form, it would be a big deal. I felt I put enough caveats in my answer to make the conditional nature clear. – Just Me Nov 23 at 21:06
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    Sorry for the confusion in my previous comment, "the box" surely refers to the initial form of August 12. Oct 8 is the date when the whistleblower phoned the ICIG to discuss the contact matter. The phone call is probably not a coincidence because the Federalist posted an article about the checkbox a few days before (Oct 4). After the phone call, the whistleblower gave a written statement on Oct 18 on the same matter. – Fizz Nov 23 at 21:21

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