A newly declassified complaint from a whistleblower accusing U.S. President Donald Trump of trying to “solicit interference from a foreign country” to boost his re-election is stirring the impeachment pot.
The nine-page report, released Thursday, was written by an unidentified member of the U.S. intelligence community.
In the report, the whistleblower offers details provided by “more than half a dozen U.S. officials” alleging Trump attempted to seek foreign interference in the U.S. election by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on his political rival, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his family during a July phone call.
While the whistleblower said the sources were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” the individual felt their “colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”
The whistleblower expressed “deep concern” that the alleged actions constitute a “serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or executive order” that should be met with “urgent concern.”
The phone call, the whistleblower said, was a source of “ongoing concerns.”
The scandal then spilled into testimony from Joseph Maguire, the acting national intelligence director, before the House intelligence committee.
Maguire was grilled on the details of the complaint, which remains partly redacted.
One day earlier, the White House released a memorandum of the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
Here are a few highlights from the complaint and Maguire’s subsequent testimony:
White House tried to “lock down” call transcript
In the complaint, the whistleblower says: “In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all the records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House situation room.”
About a dozen White House officials reportedly listened in to the call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
It’s alleged that White House lawyers ordered an electronic transcript of that call wiped from a computer system.
“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,” the document reads.
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“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.”
The whistleblower said it is unclear whether “similar measures” were taken to block records of the call, such as handwritten notes by those who listened in.
Additionally, the complaint claims, according to White House officials, that this was “not the first time under this Administration 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.”
Giuliani, Barr also named in complaint
“The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort,” according to the report.
During the call with Zelenskiy, Trump urged the Ukrainian leader to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to investigate Biden.
Trump told Zelenskiy that he should expect a call from Giuliani.
According to the complaint, Giuliani visited Spain in August to meet with Zelenskiy’s advisers.
The meeting was described by U.S. officials as a “direct followup” to the call.
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Furthermore, the whistleblower claims numerous other officials informed him that Giuliani had contact with other advisers to Zelenskiy privately.
In an interview with CNN, Giuliani said he has “no knowledge of any of that crap,” referring to the newly released complaint. He refuted the claims and called it “total nonsense.”
As for Barr, he was thrust into the situation upon the release of the rough summary of the call.
In the call summary released by the White House, Trump told Zelenskiy: “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.”
There is no evidence that Biden’s son was ever under investigation in Ukraine.
On two more occasions during the call, Trump told Zelenskiy he would have Barr get in touch with him.
The Justice Department insists Barr was unaware the president had said he would help investigate a political rival.
No “policy rationale” behind aid withdrawal
Neither the National Security Council nor the Office of Management and Budget knew why Trump froze millions of dollars in aid for Ukraine, according to the complaint.
Two separate meetings were allegedly held in July on the matter in which, at some point, Trump ordered that the money be suspended. The money was ultimately frozen mere days before the call with Zelenskiy.
Officials said they were “unaware of a policy rationale” for the decision.
“Neither the OMB nor the NSC staff knew why this instruction had been issued,” the complaint reads. “During interagency meetings on 23 July and 26 July, OMB officials again stated explicitly that the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the President, but they still were unaware of a policy rationale.”
The nearly $400 million in critical military aid was intended to help Ukraine battle Russian-backed separatists.
The conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy raised questions of whether the U.S. president was using the aid as leverage to get Ukraine to help him investigate Biden.
Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged that he blocked the funds, which have since been released.
Whistleblower defended by acting intel chief
During his testimony, Maguire repeatedly stood by the whistleblower.
“I think the whistleblower did the right thing,” Maguire told the committee, adding that the statute surrounding whistleblowers was followed in this case.
He said the U.S. “must protect those who demonstrate courage to report alleged wrongdoing.”
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While expressing his support, Maguire said he believed the complaint was “credible” and “important.”
Trump, meanwhile, has described the whistleblower as a “political hack job.”
Maguire said he did not know the whistleblower’s identity and that Trump never asked him to find out the whistleblower’s identity.
Maguire believes the phone call between Trump and the foreign leader is a conversation “typically subject to executive privilege,” which is why, he says, he didn’t release it earlier.
He added that he believes both the whistleblower and the inspector general who handled the case “acted in good faith.” Also, the whistleblower could testify “fully and freely” if desired.
“I believe that the situation we have and why we’re here this morning is because this case is unique and unprecedented,” Maguire said.
What does Trump have to say?
The U.S. president put his thoughts on Twitter on Thursday morning shortly before Maguire’s testimony began.
He called the situation an attempt by Democrats to “destroy the Republican party” in a since-deleted tweet.
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Later, he said he watched “a little bit” of Maguire’s testimony on Air Force One and accused the Democrats of “making up stories.”
“It’s Adam Schiff and his crew making up stories,” Trump said, referring to the chairman of the House intelligence committee.
“They’re going to lose the election, they know it, that’s why they’re doing.”
He went on to tell reporters: “What these guys are doing, Democrats are doing to this country is a disgrace, and it shouldn’t be allowed. There should be a way of stopping it.”
On Twitter, he continued to rail against Schiff, saying he has “zero credibility” and is creating “fantasy to hurt the Republican party.”
— With files from the Associated Press