In an op-ed written for The Daily Caller, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert repeated a false claim about the whistleblower complaint behind the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
"As we have learned, the Intel Inspector General (IG) changed the rule after the complaint was known in order to allow hearsay complaints, but the IG dishonestly backdated the rule change so that damage could be done to President Trump," wrote Gohmert, a Republican from Tyler.
The claim is similar to a False statement circulated by Trump at the end of September, with some different details.
But the same truth remains: No rules regulating whistleblowers were changed. The form for submitting a complaint was altered, but the rules stayed the same.
Trump’s tweet, original theory
In September, Trump shared a tweet (in all capital letters) that suggested questionable bureaucratic changes allowed the whistleblower complaint to be accepted, when it normally would not have met the threshold for a complaint.
"Who changed the long standing whistleblower rules just before submittal of the fake whistleblower report?" Trump said. "Drain the swamp!"
We rated Trump’s claim False. Let’s review the ruling.
The basis for Trump’s claim was an article on the conservative website The Federalist that said the intelligence community eliminated a rule that would require whistleblowers to provide "direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings."
In reality, the current rules, in place since 2014, remain unchanged. Whistleblowers are allowed to provide first or second-hand information (or both).
What did change recently is a form for submitting a whistleblower complaint to the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.
The earlier version of the form, which had been in use since May 24, 2018, included a section titled, "First-hand information required" that stated the Office of Inspector General must be "in possession of reliable, first-hand information" to "find an urgent concern ‘credible.’"
In August, the Office of Inspector General changed the form because the office found that some sections "could be read — incorrectly — as suggesting that whistleblowers must possess first-hand information in order to file an urgent concern complaint," according to a statement from the office.
In reality, the language on the original form about first-hand information referred to requirements for the investigation that follows the submission of a complaint — not a requirement of the complaint itself.
The whistleblower complaint in question was submitted on Aug. 12, 2019, using the earlier version of the form, according to the Office of Inspector General. The whistleblower stated on the form that "he or she possessed both first-hand and other information," according to the office.
Internet search, The Federalist
In his op-ed, Gohmert repeated a version of Trump’s claim and said that the rule was changed "after the complaint was known in order to allow hearsay complaints" and that the rule change was backdated, "so that damage could be done to President Trump."
Kimberly Willingham, spokeswoman for Gohmert, pointed to a different Federalist article as the source for the congressman’s claim.
She added: "Would also suggest doing an internet search for ‘IG changed backdated rules’."
When asked whether that was where Gohmert got his information, Willingham said: "No, but this is where you can confirm it if you were going to be fair for a change."
The Federalist article built on earlier pieces published by the outlet on this subject.
It said that Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community, refused to answer questions from lawmakers during a closed-door committee hearing in early October about why "his office backdated secret changes to key whistleblower forms and rules in the wake of an anti-Trump whistleblower complaint filed in August."
The article goes on to cite a letter submitted to the Office of the Inspector General by three Republican senators at the end of September that poses a series of questions about the alleged rule change. It states Atkinson did not respond to their inquiry.
Other news reports paint a different picture of the October hearing and Atkinson’s response to allegations from Republicans.
USA Today and CNN describe Atkinson answering questions from lawmakers about how his office determined that the whistleblower complaint was credible. He outlined the process in detail, according to both reports.
The CNN article also lays out how Atkinson has responded to allegations from Republicans that the whistleblower’s complaint amounts to hearsay: "The office of the Intelligence Community inspector general forcefully also pushed back on Republicans' argument in a rare statement on Monday, saying, ‘The whistleblower stated on the form that he or she possessed both first-hand and other information.’"
The statement is the same one that outlines why the language on the form for submitting a complaint was altered.
An internet search for "IG changed backdated rules," as Willingham suggested, returned links to several different websites re-sharing the same article from The Federalist.
Gohmert said: "As we have learned, the Intel Inspector General (IG) changed the rule after the complaint was known in order to allow hearsay complaints, but the IG dishonestly backdated the rule change so that damage could be done to President Trump."
This claim echoes one made earlier by Trump and it relies on an article that builds on an inaccurate theory promoted by The Federalist.
No rules regulating whistleblower complaints were changed. The Office of the Inspector General altered the form for submitting complaints to make it more clear that whistleblowers can supply either first or second-hand information, as has been the case since 2014.
Gohmert repeated a debunked claim circulated by Trump and could not provide evidence to support his statement. We rate his claim Pants on Fire.