WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump downplayed reports Wednesday that notes from his phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky were stored in a highly secure system reserved for classified information, saying said he assumes the step was taken to keep them from being made public.
“This city is like the leaking capital of the world,” Trump told reporters in the White House Roosevelt Room. “If you want to get something out to the press, all you have to do is hand it to somebody in Washington.”
Trump’s remarks are the first time he has publicly discussed the measures taken to safeguard records of his conversation with Zelensky. That conversation is at the center of an impeachment inquiry House Democrats have opened against Trump.
A bombshell whistleblower complaint, released two weeks ago about Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president, alleged that White House staff took extraordinary measures to "lock down" all records of the conversation.
The declassified, partially redacted nine-page report alleges White House officials were "directed" to remove electronic records of the phone conversation from an internal computer system where the material is typically stored and instead the records were placed in a highly secure system reserved for classified information pertaining to national security matters.
Trump told reporters on Wednesday he doesn’t know for sure why the notes were moved.
“I’m not a lawyer,” he said, but “I can say this. I assume it was for leaks.”
Trump insisted that the decision to lock the notes away “doesn’t seem like a big deal.”
“What is a big deal, I think they're probably trying to protect it from leaks,” he said.
Trump also claimed the whistleblower, whose identity has not been made public, is a "strong Democrat" with ties to one of his political opponents. That allegation drew a rebuke from the whistleblower's legal team.
"Our client has never worked for or advised a political candidate, campaign, or party," attorney Mark Zaid said. "Our client has spent their entire government career in apolitical, civil servant positions in the Executive Branch."
Reports of Trump's phone call with Zelensky and efforts to conceal what was discussed have prompted House Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry into the president.
The Trump administration has released a summary of the conversation to counter allegations that he pressured the Ukranian president to open an investigation into a Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Biden’s son, Hunter, who served the board of a Ukranian energy company.
On Tuesday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter advising House Democrats that the administration would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry because it considers the probe to be "illegitimate."
"You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process," Cipollone said in the letter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment: Trump says notes from Ukraine call locked up to avoid leaks