President Trump solicited the incoming Ukrainian administration’s help to investigate Joe Biden and used his top officials to make it clear that U.S. support was contingent on that help. What’s more, multiple high-ranking administration officials worked to erase or hide evidence of Trump’s actions.
Those two allegations — the abuse of power and the efforts to conceal it — are at the heart of a whistleblower complaint released Thursday morning. The complaint details multiple channels that Trump and his surrogates used to push for help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, including a now-famous July 25 phone call in which Trump repeatedly suggested Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as an American cybersecurity firm that uncovered Russia’s cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
The whistleblower describes White House officials as being “deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call” and that the call had set White House lawyers scrambling to deal with the fallout from having likely “witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”
According to the whistleblower’s complaint, White House officials also said this was “not the first time” that the Trump administration severely limited access to the transcript of a presidential phone call for political purposes, not national-security reasons.
Here are the complaint’s key points:
Trump’s efforts to solicit foreign election interference is at the heart of the complaint
On the first page of the complaint, the anonymous whistleblower writes he or she decided to speak out after receiving a pile of evidence that Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election.” The whistleblower says he or she learned of these efforts by Trump and his allies from more than half a dozen US officials over a period of four months, and that the allegations constituted “a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order.” The whistleblower, who was not a direct witness to the incidents outlined in the complaint, goes on to write he or she was “concerned that these actions pose risks to US national security and undermine the US Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in US elections.”
The White House tried to bury records of Trump’s July 25th call with Zelensky
Senior White House officials attempted to “lock down” access to the full transcript of Trump’s July 25th call with President Zelensky, according to the whistleblower. “This set of actions underscored to me,” the whistleblower writes, “that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
The whistleblower says White House officials said they were “directed” by White House lawyers to “remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored” and move it to a system for classified information where far fewer people could read it. One White House official called this an “abuse” because the transcript “did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.”
The cover up: pic.twitter.com/Wwy9rFC3Vk
— Matt Viser (@mviser) September 26, 2019
The call was part of a broader, months-long campaign to pressure Zelensky
Far from taking place in a vacuum, the July 25 phone call occurred amid a months-long campaign by the president and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to push the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, according to the whistle-blower.
The pressure campaign began before Zelensky even took office: Trump is said to have personally instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his plans to attend Zelensky’s May inauguration. Trump instead sent a lower-ranking official, Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The complaint alleges the administration froze nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, and that officials said during a meeting that the decision to do so “had come directly from the President.”
That a sitting president leveraged national-security aid to push a foreign country to interfere in a domestic election on his behalf is perhaps the most extreme abuse of power alleged in the complaint. But there were other actions the whistleblower says the Trump administration took to lean on the newly-elected president of a country embroiled in an ongoing conflict with its much larger Russian neighbor.
According to the author of the complaint, “multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting 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 [Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy] Lutsenko and Giuliani.”
This wasn’t the first time the White House has tried to suppress a transcript of one of Trump’s calls for political reasons
Citing multiple White House officials, the whistleblower writes this wasn’t the first time the White House restricted access to a transcript of one of Trump’s phone calls for reasons having nothing to do with national security. “According to White House officials I spoke with, 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,” the whistleblower writes.
Attorney General William Barr appears to have been “involved”
In the “transcript” of the July 25th call, Trump tells Zelensky that Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr would be in touch regarding a potential investigation into Biden. The whistleblower’s complaint notes that Giuliani was a “central figure” in the effort to get Ukraine to investigate one of Trump’s chief political rivals, and that Barr, “appears to be involved,” as well. The involvement of both is concerning, but implication that the head of the United States Justice Department working in tandem with the president in order to pressure a foreign government into investigating one of the president’s political rivals is especially troubling.
So too is the fact that is was Barr who tried to prevent the whistleblower complaint from being released to Congress.
The same one whose Justice Department intervened to suppress the complaint! https://t.co/NsYbxpkNiU
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 26, 2019
Officials were concerned about Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens
The whistleblower complaint lays out in point-by-point fashion how Giuliani ran a backchannel operation to pressure the new Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. (Hunter had served on the board of a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company called Burisma Holdings.) Giuliani met several times with Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, beginning in the spring of 2019, with an eye toward convincing President Zelensky to go after the Bidens. Ukrainian leaders came to believe, according to the whistleblower, that they needed to “play ball” on the issues raised by Giuliani if Zelensky wanted to get a meeting or phone call with Trump. (The Ukrainian president getting an audience with the US president is no small matter: The US is one of Ukraine’s top allies and a major provider of defense support and aid.)
According to the whistleblower, multiple US officials said they were “deeply concerned” by Giuliani’s “circumvention of national security decision-making processes” by directly communicating with Ukrainian officials and relaying those messages back to Trump.
Read the full whistleblower complaint below: