/Whistleblower says White House tried to lock down Ukraine call

Whistleblower says White House tried to lock down Ukraine call

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Congress

The unnamed individual also claimed White House officials were ‘deeply disturbed’ by Trump’s push for a Biden probe.

09/26/2019 08:53 AM EDT

Updated 09/26/2019 12:13 PM EDT


An intelligence community whistleblower claimed White House officials expressed alarm that they had witnessed President Donald Trump “abuse his office for personal gain” during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July, and later tried to “lock down” details of the conversation.

According to an unclassified version of the complaint released by the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning, the unidentified whistleblower said White House officials who listened to the call were “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s requests that Zelensky investigate former vice president and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden and revisit claims related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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“I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the whistleblower wrote. “This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”

The complaint describes concerns among White House officials that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden — and that the call was the culmination of a series of events meant to pressure the new Ukrainian president to bend to Trump’s will, including dispatching Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to lean on Ukrainian officials to probe Biden.

The whistleblower also indicated Attorney General William Barr was involved — and a summary of the call released by Trump on Wednesday indicated Trump had suggested Barr could provide Justice Department aid to Ukraine’s investigators. The Justice Department said Trump never communicated this request directly to Barr.

The whistleblower said about a dozen White House officials were on the president’s July 25 call and that White House officials later intervened to “lock down” records of the call. According to the whistleblower complaint, White House officials were directed by White House lawyers to move electronic transcripts to a more secure electronic system typically meant for classified information.

An intelligence community watchdog received the initial whistleblower complaint, conducted his own review and deemed it both “urgent” and credible, triggering a legal requirement that it be transmitted to Congress.

In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee, the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, said his preliminary review of the matter supported the whistleblower’s core complaint — that Trump exerted pressure on a foreign leader to influence to the 2020 presidential election. Atkinson said the whistleblower had an “arguable” political bias, but he said he still viewed the complaint as credible in part because of other information he obtained.

But Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, diverted the complaint to the Justice Department, which determined it was potentially privileged and not in the jurisdiction of the intelligence community.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a former CIA officer, tweeted: “there is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning. We need to fully investigate all of the allegations addressed in the letter, and the first step is to talk to the whistleblower.”

The complaint is all but certain to fuel House Democrats’ accelerating efforts to bring articles of impeachment against Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind a formal impeachment inquiry Tuesday, and as details of the whistleblower complaint emerged, Democrats became increasingly resolved to expedite the effort.

“This is a cover up, this is a cover up,” Pelosi said Thursday of the whistleblower complaint.

Defenders of the president have already seized on reports that the whistleblower was not an eyewitness to the events described in the complaint. In the version of the complaint released by Congress, the whistleblower acknowledges this but says the events were corroborated by more than half a dozen officials.

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