The White House acted to hide not only transcripts of President Donald Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president but also with Russian president Vladimir Putin and members of the Saudi Royal family on a highly classified computer system reserved for the country’s most sensitive information, according to reporting from CNN and the New York Times on Friday.
The Trump Administration has taken extraordinary steps to restrict access to the president’s conversations with certain world leaders after embarrassing information from phone calls with leaders in Mexico and Australia was leaked at the beginning of his presidency. Those measures were restricted even further when details leaked from Trump’s conversation with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov and then-Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey I. Kislyak.
In the case of calls with the Saudis, including with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Khalid bin Salman—who was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US at the time—the administration set limits on who could listen in ahead of time. The crown prince was implicated by the CIA in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A number of current and former officials defended the practice to the Times claiming it was done in response to numerous leaks. But concerns that they were restricting access to these conversations to cover up wrongdoing surfaced when a whistleblower alleged Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the newly-elected president dug up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden related to his son’s dealings with a Ukranian oil company. But allegations of impropriety by Biden’s son have been thoroughly debunked.
Administration officials also told the Times that National Security Council lawyers were responsible for the decision to store the transcript of the Ukraine call on the highly classified system. “NSC lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately,” a senior administration official told CNN.
But according to the whistleblower, use of the system in this way is an abuse. “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 in their report.
And former CIA Director John Brennan said on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes that, according to the whistleblower report, the call with the Ukraine president “was moved to the directorate of national intelligence programs.”
Brennan added, “That’s not just a classified system, not just a secret codeword system, that is an area where you keep the most sensitive, the absolutely most sensitive information that the US government has, including our covert action programs. It’s a standalone system. It’s a way to ensure that there’s going to be highly, highly restricted access to that. It’s not connected to the rest of the White House complex. It is an enclave. And if it was moved into that, and it was not classified, it clearly was being done for another purpose, which was to try to prevent it from being discovered or seen by other individuals. So, I think that is a very, very worrisome development.”
He concluded, “I think that is also something that the intelligence community and General Maguire, the acting DNI, should be very concerned about—that that was a misuse and abuse of a system designed to protect this country’s most precious secrets.”