House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters during a briefing on Capitol Hill about a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump on September 19, 2019
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters during a briefing on Capitol Hill about a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump on September 19, 2019 AFP / Brendan Smialowski

The US intelligence watchdog briefed lawmakers Thursday about the handling of a whistleblower complaint on alleged behavior by President Donald Trump, and a senior Democrat expressed alarm that the administration refuses to share the complaint with Congress.

The allegations, rejected by Trump as "presidential harassment," have set lawmakers on a collision course with the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which is refusing to share the details -- raising suspicions the top spy official might be improperly protecting the president.

According to a report by The Washington Post, which cited two unnamed former US officials, a complaint filed by a US intelligence official stemmed from Trump's communications with a foreign leader and a "promise" allegedly made by the president.

The foreign leader involved was not identified by the Post.

The newspaper did say the complaint "centers" on Ukraine, and cited two people familiar with the matter.

The New York Times also reported Thursday that "at least part of" the whistleblower's complaint "deals with" Ukraine. The newspaper cited two people familiar with the situation.

Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky -- who was elected in May -- about two weeks before the complaint was filed, according to both newspapers.

The whistleblower had filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community (IC IG), Michael Atkinson, who acknowledged he considered it a credible matter of "urgent concern" that necessitated notifying congressional oversight committees.

But during a three-hour closed-door briefing, Atkinson told the House Intelligence Committee that the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has barred him from providing details of the complaint to Congress.

"That whole purpose is being frustrated here because the Director of National Intelligence has made the unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress," the committee's chairman, Democrat Adam Schiff, told reporters after the briefing.

Schiff said, without revealing the source of his information, that the Department of Justice has been involved in the decision to withhold the whistleblower's complaint.

"We do not know, because we cannot get an answer to the question, about whether the White House is also involved in preventing this information from coming to Congress," he said.

Schiff made public Thursday a letter from Atkinson in which the intelligence inspector general said that he and the acting DNI "are at an impasse over this issue."

'Crisis of confidence'

Schiff told the DNI in a letter Wednesday that his decision to ignore the August 12 complaint has precipitated a broader "crisis of confidence and trust" that threatens the integrity of the intelligence community's whistleblower process, "with potentially far-reaching consequences."

Trump dismissed the concerns in a Twitter thread, calling the story "fake news," and noting that any time he speaks with foreign leaders by phone he is well aware that there are likely "many people" listening from US agencies.

"Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call," he said.

"I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!"

House Democrat Jackie Speier emerged from the Atkinson briefing expressing concern about what she called "the violation of the law" regarding failure to send the whistleblower complaint to Congress.

"It's deeply troubling," she told reporters.

Maguire, meanwhile, has agreed to testify in an open session before the committee next Thursday.

Trump has had an uneasy relationship with the US intelligence community since taking office and has frequently criticized their work.

In early September the Democratic heads of three House committees announced an investigation into alleged efforts by Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure the Ukrainian government for their own political ends, including by withholding US security assistance.

They allege that Trump and Giuliani have pressured Kiev to prosecute Ukrainians who provided evidence against Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

They also alleged that Kiev was pressured to provide damaging information on the son of Joe Biden. The senior Biden is the leading Democratic hopeful to challenge Trump in next year's presidential election.

In a combative CNN interview Thursday, Giuliani admitted Ukraine had been asked to investigate Biden's son shortly after denying such an action. Giuliani, explaining the contradiction, said he had asked Ukraine "to look into the allegations that related to my client, which tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery scheme."

And the president's lawyer also tweeted: "A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job."

Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company beginning in 2014, while his father was vice president.