Pelosi on handling of whistleblower complaint: 'This is a cover-up'

“Our focus is on this allegation,” the House speaker said at her first news conference since announcing a formal impeachment inquiry this week.

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By Rebecca Shabad and Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the allegations laid out by the intelligence community whistleblower in the complaint released to the public earlier in the day amounted to a “cover-up” by the administration.

“This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference as she answered questions for the first time since announcing a formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday evening.

The speaker read from the whistleblower’s complaint alleging that the White House tried to “lock down” all records of the call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart because officials there understood the gravity and potential consequences of what had transpired during the conversation.

“When you have a system of electronic storage for information that is specifically for national security purposes and you have something that is self-serving to the president politically and decide you might not want people to know, and you hide it some place else, that’s a cover-up,” Pelosi said.

In response to a question from NBC News, Pelosi confirmed that Democrats have decided to narrow the current focus of their impeachment inquiry to the allegations laid out by the whistleblower.

“Our consensus in our caucus is we will proceed under the auspices of where this is relevant and that is the Intelligence Committee,” she said. “Our focus is on this allegation.”

The House Judiciary Committee, however, would be the panel that would handle articles of impeachment.

Asked about a timeline for the impeachment inquiry, Pelosi said she has not given committee chairs any deadlines and said only that the facts would determine the schedule.

“The timeline relates to how the [Intelligence] committee proceeds and our timeline will spring from them,” she said.

Pelosi emphasized that the action taken by the president “lifts this to a whole new terrain, a whole new level of concern about his lawlessness.

“Use any metaphor you want — crossing the Rubicon, a new day has dawned … ” she added. “The facts are these — that the president of the United States, in his actions in a telephone call with a head of state, betrayed his oath of office, our national security and the integrity of our election.”

“It is not the role of the president to shake down foreign leaders for his own political purposes, withholding taxpayer money to do so,” she said.

Her comments came as the Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint at a public hearing Thursday.

Speaking of Maguire’s decision to withhold the complaint from Congress last week, Pelosi said, “I think what the DNI did was [break] the law. The law is very clear — the DNI 'shall' convey the complaint to the Intelligence Committee.”