Washington: Multiple White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by President Donald Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president and the administration attempted to “lock down” records of the interaction, according to a whistle-blower’s complaint made public Thursday.
The complaint from the whistle-blower, who hasn’t been publicly identified, “appears credible,” the intelligence community’s inspector general said in a separate letter released Thursday by House Intelligence Committee.
The information in the complaint was gathered from multiple US officials, according to the whistle-blower’s account.
“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me that 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,” the complaint says.
The whistle-blower said that senior White House officials used unusual procedures when handling the records of Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. They said it wasn’t the first time that a presidential transcript was put into a “code word-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive - rather than national security sensitive - information.”
The whistle-blower’s complaint points to possible violations of campaign finance law as well as an attempt to seek foreign assistance to interfere in or influence a federal election. It implicates Trump’s lawyer and Attorney General William Barr as well.
“This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals,” the complaint says, referring to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. “The president’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.”
The redacted complaint, and a letter from the inspector general to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, were declassified and released ahead of a hearing Thursday morning of the House Intelligence Committee.
The complaint from an unnamed intelligence official concerns a sequence of events including Trump’s call with Zelenskiy. That call and the complaint moved House Democrats to go forward with an impeachment inquiry against Trump this week.
Several White House aides and Trump loyalists expressed scepticism about the whistle-blower’s credibility, because the person learned of the allegations in the complaint second-hand and didn’t identify any sources. One aide questioned what crime the president had allegedly committed. But a former administration official said the complaint had deepened the jeopardy for Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
“Nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings”-all of which shows nothing improper,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
At the Intelligence hearing, the committee’s top Republican, Devin Nunes, said the complaint relies on “hearsay evidence” and called the controversy “ a fake news story” from Democrats and their “media assets.”
Congressional investigators are still trying to ascertain whether Trump explicitly threatened to cut off US military aid to Ukraine unless Zelenskiy re-opened investigations into the Bidens. Trump ordered a halt to about $250 million in aid provided by Congress at least a week before the July 25 call, a person familiar with the matter has said.
The whistle-blower’s complaint more specifically describes the timing of Trump’s freeze of the aid. According to the complaint, an unnamed Office of Management and Budget official informed government agencies on July 18 that Trump had “earlier that month” issued instructions to suspend all US security assistance to Ukraine.
OMB reiterated those instructions in “interagency meetings” on July 23 and July 26, the whistle-blower said - two days before Trump’s call and one day afterward. In those meetings, OMB officials “explicitly” said again that “the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the president,” the whistle-blower said.
The whistle-blower lays out a series of events going back months involving Giuliani publicly and privately trying to get Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
The whistle-blower complaint recounted learning from multiple US officials that Giuliani traveled to Madrid in early August to meet with one of Zelentskiy’s advisers, Andriy Yermak.