White House

Coats: 'I guess I was spared' from handling whistleblower complaint

“I had no idea that this would happen, but I guess I was spared, and he was the one that had to go before the Congress in a difficult time and deal with this issue.”

Dan Coats

Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats insisted he was unaware of a forthcoming watchdog report regarding a whistleblower complaint involving President Donald Trump when he resigned last summer — but said his exit nevertheless “spared” him from the political fallout that culminated in Trump’s impeachment.

Asked during an interview on “The World and Everything in It” podcast whether he was glad he left the administration when he did in August 2019, Coats said: “Well, yes, although I didn’t know the inspector general’s report was coming, but this was a date that the president had announced earlier would be my last day.”

Soon after Coats’ resignation last August, the intelligence community’s inspector general forwarded a whistleblower complaint lodged by an anonymous intelligence official to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. That complaint detailed Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and alleged efforts by White House officials to “lock down” records of the conversation.

“I felt bad for the new interim director of national intelligence. I hired him to be head of our counterterrorism organization,” Coats said of Maguire. “But here the poor guy ends up now interim director of national intelligence, and then that inspector general’s report came across his desk, and I felt bad that he was put in that position.”

He added: “I had no idea that this would happen, but I guess I was spared, and he was the one that had to go before the Congress in a difficult time and deal with this issue.”

The inspector general, Michael Atkinson, deemed the complaint credible and “urgent,” but Maguire initially refused to provide it to Congress. Coats’ successor eventually turned over the document after significant pressure from lawmakers including a threat by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff to pursue legal action against the administration.

Maguire acknowledged during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that he first discussed the complaint with the White House counsel’s office, and then consulted with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — which concluded the complaint did not meet the legal definition of “urgent” because Trump is not an employee of the intelligence community.

Coats revealed Wednesday he “was not aware” that the president’s phone call with Zelensky on July 25 took place, and said it had nothing to do with the timing of his resignation. Trump announced in a tweet on July 28 that Coats would be stepping down.

“No, it didn’t. It sure looks like it did, but it didn’t,” Coats said when asked if his departure was related to the call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Instead, Coats speculated that the White House “felt that I was going to be leaving very, very soon, and it wasn’t necessary for me to see the transcript or hear the call.”