The whistleblower complaint detailing concerns over President Donald Trump’s July phone call with the Ukrainian president alleges that the President “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
In addition to the July phone call, the complaint, which was released by the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning, details an alleged effort by White House officials to keep records of the call secret and efforts to follow up with Ukrainian officials about the call. The whistleblower described the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as a “central figure” in the effort to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, and that Attorney General William Barr “appears to be involved.” (Giuliani has defended his work and denied wrongdoing while the Department of Justice has denied that Barr has communicated with Ukraine).
In the complaint, the whistleblower said that he or she did not hear the phone call personally, but that about a dozen White House officials had listened to the call, and more than six officials had later spoken to the whistleblower about its contents.
The release of the complaint comes the day after the White House made public a summary reconstructed from notes that describes the phone call’s contents. According to the White House summary, Zelensky expressed interest in purchasing more U.S.-made missiles before Trump asked the Ukrainian president for a “favor” by looking into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine.
Zelensky denied that Trump had pressured him on the call while sitting with the President at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. “Nobody pushed me,” Zelensky said. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said there was “no quid pro quo” on the call.
In a statement Thursday, White House Communications Director Stephanie Grisham said the complaint “changes nothing.” “The President took the extraordinary and transparent steps of releasing the full, unredacted, and declassified transcript of his call with President Zelenskyy, which forms the heart of the complaint, as well as the complaint itself,” the statement said. “That is because he has nothing to hide.”
The July phone call and the allegations in the whistleblower complaint have become the focus on a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives that Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday.
Here are some of the significant allegations in the complaint.
Transcript of Ukraine calls was moved to secret computer system
The whistleblower complaint says that a record of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president was placed into the system managed by the National Security Council Directorate for Intelligence Progress, which is typically reserved for top-secret information. White House officials told the whistleblower that their superiors in the Trump Administration had told them to remove the electronic transcript from the place such records are usually stored, where it would have been distributed to cabinet officials.
After the memorandum was released, multiple Republicans in Congress who had read it were quick to stress that the President did nothing wrong. “It was very a gracious call. It was a very appropriate call,” said Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who was among the group of lawmakers invited to the White House Wednesday morning to read the memorandum before it was released to the public.
But the whistleblower complaint alleges that the White House took measures to classify the call, even though it did not contain any top-secret national security content.
“According to information I received from White House officials, some officials voiced concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system and was not consistent with the responsibilities of the Directorate for Intelligence Programs,” the whistleblower wrote. The whistleblower also noted that, based on conversations with White House officials, this was not the first time this had happened.
It seems inevitable that House Democrats will hone in on this development as they continue their impeachment inquiry.
Concern from White House officials
The complaint indicates that the whistleblower, who was not a direct witness to the call, was provided with the information about it because of concern from White House officials that Trump was using his office to advance himself politically.
White House officials, the whistleblower writes, “told me that there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because in all likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, they had witnessed the President abuse the office for his personal gain.”
After viewing the complaint Wednesday evening, several Democratic lawmakers said it provided valuable information and is evidence of the need for further investigation. It seems clear that the unnamed White House officials who listened to the call, as well as the State Department official T. Ulrich Brechdahl, will be key to the probe.
Complaint says Attorney General William Barr involved
The complaint states that Attorney General William Barr “appears to be involved” in efforts by Trump to solicit interference from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 presidential election and suggests that he offered Barr as a way to help do so.
It goes on to say that White House officials with direct knowledge of the call between Trump and Zelensky mentioned that the President pressured Zelensky to meet Barr, who was “named explicitly” as the President’s “personal envoy,” along with Rudy Giuliani.
The Justice Department has denied that Barr spoke with Trump “about having Ukraine investigate anything related to” Biden or his son, in a statement on Wednesday. “The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine – on this or any other subject,” said Kerri Kupec, spokesperson for the Department of Justice. “Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
Trump allegedly told Pence to cancel trip to Ukraine’s presidential inauguration
The whistleblower says he or she learned through U.S. officials that President Donald Trump told Vice President Mike Pence around May 14 to cancel his plans to attend President Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration, according to the complaint. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ultimately led the delegation to Ukraine instead.
The officials also said that the President “made clear” that he did not intend to meet with the Ukrainian President until Zelensky showed how he “chose to act,” according to the whistleblower, who noted that he or she was not sure how this was communicated or whether this was connected to broader understanding about interest in an investigation.
On Wednesday, Trump tried to downplay his July call with the Ukrainian president, noting that Pence had a “couple of conversations” with the Ukrainians as well. Pence has defended the President’s actions, declaring on the FOX Business Network that Trump has “been completely vindicated” and that Democrats have spent years working to overturn the result of the 2016 elections.
Giuliani accused of being ‘central figure’ in Trump efforts
The whistleblower complaint referred to Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, as “a central figure” in Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son.
It said White House officials were “deeply concerned” by what they saw as a “circumvention of national security decision-making processes” by the President’s personal lawyer.
The complaint alleges that in several instances, Giuliani unofficially reached out to Ukrainian officials and relayed messages to and from Trump.
The process created so much confusion and harm, the complaint said, that U.S. State Department officials allegedly spoke with Giuliani in an effort to “contain the damage” to America’s national security. They even allegedly met with members of the Ukrainian administration to help them understand and respond to inconsistent messages received from official channels and through Giuliani.
Guiliani denied the allegations in the complaint to CNN, saying that he has “no knowledge of any of that crap” and said it is “total nonsense.” He specifically denied that State Department officials had spoken with him to “contain the damage.” “At no time did either one of them say they wanted to ‘contain damage,’” Giuliani told CNN.
Giuliani’s name also came up in the July phone call between Trump and Zelensky, as described in the White House memorandum. Zelensky mentioned that one of his assistants spoke with Giuliani “just recently” and that he was “hoping very much that” Giuliani would come to Ukraine and meet him. Trump responded, saying that Giuliani “is a highly respected man” and that he would like for Giuliani to call Zelensky. “If you could speak to him that would be great,” Trump said before reiterating later in their conversation that “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call,” according to the memo.
Giuliani met one of Zelensky’s advisers, Andriy Yermak, on or around Aug. 2 in Madrid, several White House officials told the whistleblower, according to the complaint. The document also states that officials had described the meeting as a “direct follow-up” to the President’s call with Zelensky about the “cases” they had discussed.
The whistleblower suggested this may be far from the only time Giuliani met or tried to meet Ukrainian officials. The complaint said many White House officials told the whistleblower that Giuliani had “reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelensky advisers.” These individuals included Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan and Acting Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine, Ivan Bakanov. The whistleblower noted they did not know if those conversations actually happened, but that multiple White House officials had said Yermak and Bakanov intended to travel to Washington in August.
The complaint also noted it was publicly reported that Giuliani had, at least twice met Lutsenko, the prosecutor at the center of the Biden questions. The whistleblower said the two met once in New York in late January and then in Warsaw less than a month later.
After Zelensky’s inauguration, the whistleblower noted that Giuliani also met Ukraine’s Special Anticorruption Prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytskyy, and a former Ukrianian diplomat, Andrii Telizhenko — both of whom the whistleblower describes as “allies” of Lutsenko.