Fact check: Were whistleblower rules changed before Ukraine complaint? – NBC News

President Donald Trump and his allies advanced a conspiracy theory about the Ukraine whistleblower over the last few days alleging that the intelligence community had recently changed the rules requiring whistleblowers to base their claims on first-hand information.

But the law hasn’t changed, and there is no requirement that whistleblowers stick to first-hand information in their complaints precisely because those filings are designed to trigger official investigations that would uncover such first-hand information, three attorneys who represent whistleblowers told NBC News.

“The whistleblower does not need to prove right off the bat with direct evidence what they’re claiming,” explained Eric Bachman, an attorney with Zuckerman Law who represents whistleblowers. “That type of direct evidence is frankly hard to come by. Instead, the whistleblower needs to have a reasonable belief that something illegal has occurred, and then it’s up to the inspector general to investigate.”

The Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community released a statement confirming that there is no requirement for first-hand information in such a complaint and said they had not rejected complaints on that basis. The form was changed this summer, when new employees began reviewing forms.

“In the process of reviewing and clarifying those forms, and in response to recent press inquiries regarding the instant whistleblower complaint, the ICIG understood that certain language in those forms and, more specifically, the informational materials accompanying the forms, could be read — incorrectly — as suggesting that whistleblowers must possess first-hand information in order to file an urgent concern complaint with the congressional intelligence committees.”

The Ukraine whistleblower, the statement noted, used both first-hand and second-hand information in the complaint.

After a whistleblower complaint is transmitted to an inspector general, the independent government watchdog reviews the allegation to determine whether it is credible. That could mean reviewing documents and interviewing witnesses, Bachman said. If the complaint deemed credible, the inspector general will send it to Congress for further investigation.

“Most of the complaints I’m familiar with have had some second-hand information,” Bachman said.

The president and his allies widely shared a story in conservative outlet The Federalist, which reported that a previous version of an intelligence community whistleblower form had included a paragraph stressing the importance of first-hand information in complaints transmitted from the inspector general to Congress.

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