President Donald Trump on Thursday attacked anyone involved in the whistleblower complaint regarding his dealings with Ukraine as “almost a spy” and suggested their actions to expose his alleged impropriety were “treason,” reported The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
The president made the remark as acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint, which prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday to announce the opening of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The whistleblower, an unnamed U.S. intelligence officer, alleges several White House officials accused Trump of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Biden is a front-runner in the Democratic race to challenge Trump’s reelection in 2020. The White House then attempted to cover up the exchange, according to the complaint.
The Los Angeles Times posted audio of Trump’s spy remarks he reportedly made in front of a crowd of staff from the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York City.
“Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, and he never saw the call — heard something and decided that he or she or whoever the hell it is — they’re almost a spy,” Trump said.
“Who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” the president continued. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
No one in the U.S. has been convicted of treason ― a crime punishable by death ― in the last 70 years, according to NBC News.
The House Intelligence Committee released the declassified complaint Thursday ahead of Maguire’s hearing. The complainant alleges Trump’s call with Zelensky amounted to an “abuse of his office for personal gain” and that White House officials were directed by White House lawyers to store a transcript of the call in an electronic system used to handle classified information.
Maguire, whom Trump appointed to head the U.S. intelligence community last month, testified Thursday that he believed the whistleblower had “acted in good faith” when filing the complaint.
“I have every reason to believe they have done everything by the book and followed the law,” he told the committee.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) condemned Trump’s attacks on the whistleblower and his or her sources.
“The President’s suggestion that those involved in the whistleblower complaint should be dealt with as ‘we used to do’ for ‘spies and treason’ is a reprehensible invitation to violence against witnesses in our investigation,” Schiff tweeted. “All Americans must denounce such witness intimidation.”
This article has been updated with more details about what Trump said and reactions to it.