WASHINGTON — A whistleblower complaint released Thursday alleges that President Donald Trump solicited Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election, leading “deeply disturbed” White House officials to “lock down” records of the call to cover it up.
That complaint and an inspector general report that found its allegations “credible” and “urgent” were made public by a House committee Thursday, a day after Trump released a memo describing his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Descriptions of that call show Trump pressing Zelensky to aid in an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, creating a political storm and prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Citing the whistleblower complaint’s allegation that White House officials moved the record of Trump’s call to a specially protected location, Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference, “This is a cover-up.”
Trump dismissed the compliant as “second hand information” and another “Witch Hunt.”
But he also suggested that White House officials who talked to the whistleblower committed treason as he spoke to a gathering of staff of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, according to news reports.
“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
The whistleblower, a member of the intelligence community whose identity remains secret, filed the seven-page complaint on Aug. 12 based on conversations with half a dozen White House officials and bolstered by news media accounts — but with no first-hand knowledge.
“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.
“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 whistleblower wrote.
“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,” the complaint says.
It added that White House officials disturbed by the lockdown said that “this was ‘not the first time’” that a Trump transcript was placed into “this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee chairman, who released the complaint and inspector general report that validated it, said the whistleblower’s account of the phone call “has been borne out” by the memo about it that Trump released.
“So in a very substantial part, this whistleblower has already been found to be credible,” Schiff said, adding that for other matters raised in the complaint, “This whistleblower has given us a roadmap for our investigation.”
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top committee Republican, criticized Democrats for “their latest information warfare operation against the president” and pointedly noted that “the complaint relied on hearsay evidence provided by the whistleblower.”
House Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s exchange with Zelensky, which came days after Trump ordered White House and Pentagon officials to withhold nearly $400 million in U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine.
During the call, Trump requested a “favor” from Zelensky, asking him to probe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who previously sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was in office, according to a memo of the call released Wednesday by the White House.
Ukrainian officials have said Hunter Biden has not been accused of any wrongdoing in relation to his role on the board of Burisma.
The president also asked for Ukraine to investigate CrowdStrike, the U.S. cybersecurity firm that handled the Democratic National Committee’s response to Russian-led email hacks during the 2016 campaign.
Schiff released the complaint and inspector general report shortly before acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire appeared before the committee to testify about why he withheld the complaint from Congress despite a law requiring it to be transmitted within seven days.
“I am not familiar with any prior instances where a whistleblower complaint touched on such complicated and sensitive issues including executive privilege. I believe that this matter is unprecedented,” Maguire said.
Schiff said earlier this week that the whistleblower, through lawyers, had agreed to cooperate and might appear soon before the committee.
With Laura Figueroa Hernandez
EXCERPTS FROM THE WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT
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.
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 Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.
I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute “a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order” that “does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters,” consistent with the definition of an “urgent concern” in 50 U.S.C. §3033(k)(5)(G). I am therefore fulfilling my duty to report this information, through proper legal channels, to the relevant authorities.
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.
Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests. Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.
According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to, inter alia: initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden; assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike,3 which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016; and meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.
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.
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 official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced—as is customary—by the White House Situation Room.
In his multitude of public statements leading up to and in the wake of the publication of this article, Mr. Giuliani confirmed that he was focused on encouraging Ukrainian authorities to pursue investigations into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged wrongdoing by the Biden family.
Starting in mid-May, I heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.