Senior White House officials tried to “lock down” information about a call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine, according to a whistleblower complaint released on Thursday.
The complaint alleges that White House officials removed a rough transcript of the call from the computer system where such documents are typically held, and put it on a system for classified information.
The whistleblower’s allegations prompted the House to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his office to smear former vice president Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination. The complaint centers on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump urges an investigation of Biden and his son.
The whistleblower was not one of the dozen U.S. officials who listened in on the call, but heard about it from others in the White House who were “disturbed” by it, according to the document.
“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call,” the complaint states. “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.”
The complaint alleges that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, was a central figure in the discussions with Ukraine, and that Attorney General William Barr may have been involved as well.
The disclosure comes a day after the White House released a rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call. According to that document, Trump told the Ukrainian president that the United States has been “very very good” to Ukraine, but that, “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal.” Zelensky raised the subject of military aid to his country, which is involved in a continuing conflict with Russia. In response, Trump asked for a “favor” from the Ukrainian president, and then asked for investigations of Biden and the Democratic National Committee server.
The whistleblower complaint centers on that phone call, but also adds additional context on events that led up to it.
The complaint is addressed to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Richard Burr, and dated Aug. 12. The Trump administration initially refused to turn the complaint over to Congress, but reversed course once the impeachment inquiry was launched.
At a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, Schiff and other Democrats faulted Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, for not turning over the complaint sooner, and for defying a committee subpoena for the document. Maguire said that he was working with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on the best way to transmit the information.
Appearing on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Wednesday night, Biden called the president’s conduct a “blatant abuse of power.”