WASHINGTON — The phone call is just a start.
A whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump’s dealings with the new president of Ukraine lays out concerns about multiple actions taken by the Trump White House and its allies that suggest the president was using his office “to solicit interference from a foreign country” to boost his re-election prospects. The complaint, written by an unidentified member of the U.S. intelligence community, was released Thursday. The House Intelligence Committee grilled the acting U.S. spy chief on details of the redacted complaint.
A few key takeaways from the complaint and the hearing:
It’s about far more than just that call
The complaint discusses a July 25 phone call in which Trump prodded Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to dig up dirt on the son of Democratic rival Joe Biden.
But it goes well beyond the call. For example, the complaint details how Ukrainian leaders met with the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations and others on how to “navigate” the demands made by Trump. Giuliani met with Ukraine advisers in August as a “direct follow-up” to the call.
A cover-up is alleged
The complaint says that in the days after the July 25 phone call, the whistleblower learned that senior White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records of the call, especially the rough transcript produced by note-takers in the White House Situation Room.
White House officials told the whistleblower they were “directed” by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system where such records are typically stored.
“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the report said.
The officials raised concerns that the transcript was moved to a separate computer system. White House officials told the whistleblower that “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 complaint said.
Rudy, Rudy, Rudy
“The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort.”
The report says that many U.S. officials told the whistleblower that they were deeply concerned about Giuliani’s efforts to circumvent the national security decision-making process to engage Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth.
In the call, Trump prodded Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani and Barr to investigate Biden and said that Giuliani would be calling him.
The whistleblower said in the complaint that Giuliani traveled to Spain in early August to meet with one of Zelenskiy’s advisers and that U.S. officials characterized the meeting to the whistleblower as a “direct follow-up” to Trump’s call.
The complaint also states that several U.S. officials told the whistleblower that Giuliani had privately reached out to other advisers to the Ukrainian leader.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Giuliani said that he had spoken to a Ukrainian official at the request of Trump’s State Department.
Can’t explain the money
The whistleblower said the National Security Council and Office of Management and Budget didn’t know why Trump held up millions of dollars in aid for Ukraine.
A few days before his call with Zelenskiy, Trump ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine. The president said he did so to fight corruption and urge European nations to do more to help Ukraine.
The whistleblower alleges in the complaint that in two separate meetings in July, OMB officials said Trump had personally directed the money to be frozen but that they “were unaware of a policy rationale” for the decision.
The whistleblower must be protected
Joseph Maguire, the acting national intelligence director, repeatedly defended the whistleblower during Thursday’s hearing and insisted the person would be protected if that person wanted to appear before Congress. Maguire said he does not know the whistleblower’s identity.
It was a stark contrast from Trump’s characterization in a tweet last week that the person was “highly partisan.”
Maguire said the U.S. “must protect those who demonstrate courage to report alleged wrongdoing.”
“I think the whistleblower did the right thing,” he said at one point.
Maguire also told members of the House committee that he was working with the whistleblower’s lawyers to ensure they could appear before Congress and he pledged not to take any action to block their testimony.