A whistleblower’s complaint against President Trump over his repeated calls for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son was made public on Thursday morning.
In it, the unnamed whistleblower cited conversations and details provided by “more than half a dozen U.S. officials,” alleging that Trump is “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” During a hearing Thursday morning, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire said that he didn’t believe the whistleblower was a political hack, stating that he operated in good faith.
“I think the whistleblower did the right thing, I think he followed the law every step of the way,” said Maguire.
Here are five key points from the complaint.
The White House worked to restrict a full transcript of the call
The complaint alleges that in the days following the call, the White House worked to try and “lock down” all records of the call, particularly the “official word-for-word transcript” that was produced. On Wednesday, the White House released what they called a transcript but was in reality a rough memo that contained “the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and [National Security Council] policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place.”
White House officials told me that they were “directed” by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.
Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.
According to White House officials who spoke with the whistleblower, this was not the first time that a presidential transcript was “placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive—rather than national security sensitive—information.” In January, it was reported that Trump had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to conceal records of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Barr stars in the complaint
Attorney General William Barr is first mentioned in the second paragraph of the complaint. He’s mentioned numerous times throughout the nine-page complaint.
The whistleblower cites the controversial July 25 phone call in which Trump repeatedly urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden, his son and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s server in 2016. Trump requested Zelensky work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, or Barr on the matter.
Barr, whose Justice Department initially blocked the release of the whistleblower’s report to Congress, said he did not know about the request nor was he contacted by Zelensky.
But in May, months before Trump’s call, Barr announced a Department of Justice probe into the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller testified before Congress the day before the July 25 call. Trump told Zelensky that the special counsel delivered “an incompetent performance.”
The whistleblower also named the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani “a central figure” in Trump’s effort to use “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Trump, according to the memo summarizing the July 25 call, suggested Zelensky work with Giuliani and Barr to investigate alleged Ukranian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Giuliani had separately pressed and met with Ukrainian officials for a Biden inquiry, including an August trip to Madrid where he met with one of Zelensky's advisers.
The whistleblower said, U.S. officials characterized this meeting as a “direct follow-up” to the President's call with Zelensky and that they were “deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani's circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”
Trump personally ordered aid to be withheld from Ukraine
On Sept. 23, the Washington Post reported that Trump told his acting chief of staff and head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, to withhold almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine prior to his July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
The whistleblower cited that on July 18, an OMB official informed departments and agencies that the president “had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. Neither OMB nor the NSC staff knew why this instruction had been issued.”
According to the complaint, the direct order from Trump to withhold aid from Ukraine was explicitly restated during interagency meetings on July 23 and July 26, but OMB officials “still were unaware of a policy rationale.”
According to the Post, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said that Zelensky’s “entire” administration was concerned “that the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence for their unwillingness, at the time, to investigate the Bidens.” Murphy cited his interactions with numerous Ukrainian officials during an early September trip there.
The whistleblower’s complaint states:
As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it.
The Ukrainians understood the July call to mean they needed to move forward on specific corruption cases
The complaint states that the Ukrainians were the first to publicly acknowledge the July 25 call, posting a readout on the president’s website. It contained the following line, translated from Russian:
“Donald Trump expressed his conviction that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve Ukraine’s image and complete the investigation of corruption cases that have held back cooperation between Ukraine and the United States.”
In the memo of the call released by the White House on Wednesday, Trump specifically mentioned the investigation into the Bidens as a corruption case that he would like completed. According to that document, Trump said, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump told Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration
Officials told the whistleblower that Trump had Vice President Mike Pence cancel his planned trip to Zelensky’s inauguration in May. According to officials, Trump also “made clear” he didn’t want to meet Zelensky until he saw how the new president “chose to act” in office, potentially furthering the case that Trump was setting up unsaid quid pro quo expectations about what he wanted from Ukraine before moving forward with relations and potentially military aid.
I learned from U.S. officials that, on or around 14 May, the President instructed Vice President Pence to cancel his planned travel to Ukraine to attend President Zelenskyy' s inauguration on 20 May; Secretary of Energy Rick Perry led the delegation instead. According to these officials, it was also “made clear” to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy “chose to act” in office. I do not know how this guidance was communicated, or by whom. I also do not know whether this action was connected with the broader understanding, described in the unclassified letter, that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to “play ball” on the issues that had been publicly aired by Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Giuliani.
Read the full complaint below:
— Additional reporting by Dylan Stableford
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