- While the whistleblower’s primary concern is the president’s phone call with Zelensky, it is clear from the document that its author also was troubled by what appeared then to be a four-month pattern of election season misconduct ...
The whistleblower complaint at the heart of the burgeoning controversy over President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president claims not only that the president misused his office for personal gain and endangered national security but that unidentified White House officials tried to hide that conduct.
“In the course of my official duties, 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 in the complaint dated Aug. 12. The House Intelligence Committee released the seven-page document, which was directed to the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, on Thursday morning.
“This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph W. Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General [William P.] Barr appears to be involved as well,” the complaint states.
In that phone call, Trump pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, one of his chief political rivals, and Biden’s son Hunter — offering to enlist Barr’s help in that effort while dangling a possible visit to the White House, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for Barr has said that he did not know about the phone call until the whistleblower issue was raised, and that he had not spoken with Trump about assisting Ukraine with an investigation of Biden or his son.
The unidentified intelligence official was so alarmed by the conversation, and related interactions between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials, that the official filed a whistleblower complaint to the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence agencies.
While the whistleblower’s primary concern is the president’s phone call with Zelensky, it is clear from the document that its author also was troubled by what appeared then to be a four-month pattern of election season misconduct involving the president, his lawyer, and White House aides who sought to keep the whole thing quiet.
“I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections,” the person wrote.
According to the complaint, the whistleblower was not alone in harboring concerns about the nature of Trump’s actions.
“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call,” the complaint states. “They told me there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”
About a dozen White House officials listened in on the call, which is commonplace when heads of state speak directly. The complaint identifies State Department official T. Ulrich Brechbuhl as one of the officials who listened to the call.
The alarm was so great, the complaint says, that White House officials sought to limit access to the written record of the call.
“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 records of the phone call, especially the word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced — as is customary — by the White House Situation Room,” the complaint states. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
The whistleblower goes on to say that they were told by unidentified White House officials that they had been directed by White House lawyers “to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored.”
The complaint also describes a series of alleged actions by Giuliani that seemed designed to pressure the Ukraine government to go after Joe Biden — a chief political rival to the president who is currently seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in 2020.
The whistleblower said that they learned from other U.S. officials that Giuliani’s visit to Madrid on Aug. 2 to meet with a Zelensky aide was “a direct followup” to Trump’s July 25 call to the Ukrainian president and request for an investigation of the Bidens. Giuliani also reached out to “a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers, including Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan and Acting Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov,” according to the complaint.
The whistleblower’s account is based on months of conversations with colleagues and concedes that, for most of the events described, the whistleblower was not a direct witness. The whistleblower wrote that the information was gathered “in the course of official interagency business. It is routine for U.S. officials with responsibility for a particular regional or functional portfolio to share such information with one another to inform policymaking and analysis.”
The complaint, filed in August, became the subject of a high stakes back-and-forth among government agencies about how it should be handled. While the inspector general sought to alert Congress to the concern, lawyers at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded it should not be shared with Congress. The Justice Department decided it was not a proper whistleblower complaint, because it involved the conduct of the president, who is not an employee of the intelligence agencies.
Instead, the complaint was relayed to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in late August as a possible violation of campaign finance laws. After reviewing the matter for several weeks, Justice Department officials concluded the law had not been broken and closed the matter without ever opening a formal investigation.