- A memorandum of a conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden.
- The phone call took place a week after Trump ordered a hold on aid to Ukraine. Trump does not mention this hold but does say that the United States is “very very good to Ukraine” in comparison to other countries and that he “wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal.”
- Some believe this could be interpreted as Trump using aid as leverage to receive a favor in a form of quid pro quo, but others argue that quid pro quo is not made explicit in the document.
- This memo has many Democrats more eager to impeach the president after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an inquiry Tuesday. Many Republicans, however, do not believe the conversation shows serious wrongdoing.
White House Released Memorandum
President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden during a phone call, a newly released memorandum shows.
The White House released the memorandum Wednesday of Trump’s July 25 conversation with the Ukrainian leader. The memorandum is essentially a rough transcript of their call, which according to the White House is “based on notes and recollections… by policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation.”
Trump promised to release transcripts of this talk after a whistleblower complaint alleged he encouraged Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Outrage over the phone call escalated Tuesday when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opened an impeachment inquiry into the matter.
“The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great, ” Trump said to Zelensky during their conversation. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump initially denied every saying anything “inappropriate” to a foreign leader, then eventually did admit to bringing Biden up during his talk with Zelensky. After doing so, he claimed he had a right to mention Biden.
Now that the impeachment inquiry is open, Democrats leading the charge were anxious to see what this memo would reveal. While it did confirm that Trump brought up probing a political opponent to a foreign leader, it did not explicitly confirm a quid pro quo, which is giving a favor with the expectation of getting something in return.
Just a week before their talk, Trump ordered a hold on almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. He did not bring this aid up during their conversation, however, he did insist that the United States was a strong ally to Zelensky’s country, though the favor may not be “reciprocal.”
“I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing,” Trump said.
“But the United States has been very very good to Ukraine,” he later added. “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.”
While a quid pro quo was not made explicit, many see this as Trump potentially holding assistance from the U.S. over Zelensky’s head.
Washington Post writer Aaron Blake explained its context with this metaphor:
“It’s difficult to see how Zelensky could interpret that set of circumstances as something other than a strong suggestion and even a veiled threat,” Blake wrote. “It’s equivalent to your boss repeatedly suggesting you do something — while noting what your compensation is — without explicitly making a demand. What are you going to do: believe it to just be a gentle suggestion? No, you’re going to think there could be some relation between your pocketbook/job status and your future actions.”
The fact that a quid pro quo is not directly in the memorandum does not foil the Democrat’s plan to impeach. The president still asked a foreign leader to look into Biden, a 2020 frontrunner. Democrats are also anticipating more information to come out in the whistleblower’s complaint, which was given to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on Wednesday afternoon.
Mention of Robert Mueller
Another passage that caught the public’s eye from the memorandum is one that referenced Robert Mueller. Zelesnky mentioned potentially buying Javelins from the U.S. Trump then asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” before mentioning Crowdstrike– the company that analyzed the DNC hack in 2016.
The context and details around what he says are very vague. He says he knows the Ukraine “knows a lot about it” before mentioning the company and then asks Zelensky to “get to the bottom of it.”
He then brings up Mueller’s testimony to Congress, which took place just one day before their phone call.
“As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” Trump said.
While what Trump is specifically saying is unclear, reports indicate that this could be related to efforts to get to the root of the Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. Trump, his lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and other Republicans have a theory that Ukraine may have been connected to the DNC hack and its servers.
Zelensky seemed receptive to what Trump was saying.
“Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier,” Zelensky said.
Reactions to Memorandum
After the memorandum was released, Democrats who were already behind impeachment found a new fire ignited within them.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted about the news, claiming she was surprised the White House released the memo at all.
“The President sought to use the powers of the United States government to investigate a political opponent. We have no choice but to impeach,” she wrote.
Pelosi released a statement about the news.
“The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad,” she said. “I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the memo “reads like a classic mob shakedown.”
On the other side, however, Republicans thought the call did not show the president committing any serious wrongdoings.
“Wow. Impeachment over this?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote. “What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger.”
President Donald Trump has also defended himself. He retweeted Fox News Anchor Bret Baier pointing out the lack of direct quid pro quo.
He also spoke on Wednesday calling this “the single greatest witch hunt in American history.”
“The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell,” Trump said. “It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, ‘I never knew you could be so nice.’”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Fox News) (Wall Street Journal)
Top Diplomat Blocked From Testifying in Impeachment Inquiry
- U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland was barred from giving a scheduled testimony before Congress regarding President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky and other matters involving the impeachment inquiry.
- Sondland was revealed to be a key organizer of the call with Zelensky in a series of released text messages between U.S. diplomats, Rudy Giuliani, and a top Zelensky aide.
- Democrats have accused Secretary of State Pompeo, who recently revealed he was on the July call, of obstructing the inquiry by preventing witnesses in the State Department from testifying before Congress.
Sondland Barred From Testimony
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a key figure in the impeachment inquiry, was blocked by the Trump administration from giving a planned testimony before Congress in a last-minute move Tuesday.
“Early this morning, the U.S. Department of State directed Ambassador Gordon Sondland not to appear today for his scheduled transcribed interview before the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Committee,” the law firm that represents Sondland said in a statement hours before his deposition.
“Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee’s questions on an expedited basis,” the statement continued.
“As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction.”
The administration’s efforts to bar Sondland’s testimony angered Democrats, who have sparred with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his attempts to prevent State Department officials from testifying in the ongoing impeachment investigations into President Donald Trump.
The Democrats impeachment inquiry centers around a whistleblower complaint that claims Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his 2020 opponent Joe Biden during a July phone call.
Democrats also are looking into whether or not Trump decided to withhold nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine so he could have leverage over Zelensky.
Pompeo Blocks Testimonies
On Sept. 27, Congress sent Pompeo a letter informing him of the dates they had scheduled testimonies from State Department officials.
Pompeo responded by writing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee accusing Democrats of “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly” State Department officials.
Several representatives chairing the committees leading the impeachment inquiry responded in a letter shortly after. In the letter, the members noted that there were reports that Pompeo had been on the Ukraine call, and as a result, had a conflict of interest.
“Any effort by the Secretary of the Department to intimidate or prevent witnesses from testifying or withhold documents from the Committees shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” the chairs wrote. Obstructing an impeachment inquiry is an impeachable offense.
A few days later Pompeo confirmed for the first time that he was on the July call with Zelensky.
On Oct. 6, Pompeo said that the Department of State will follow the law in the impeachment investigation. But Democrats seem skeptical.
Following the news that Sondland’s testimony had been blocked, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said that House Democrats are seeking “additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress.”
On the other side, some Republicans defended the move.
“The way [Schiff] treated Volker last week, that treatment is the reason why the State Department and the White House said we’re not going to subject Ambassador Sondland to the same treatment,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) told reporters Tuesday, referring to the testimony of the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
Trump also appeared to justify his administration’s efforts on Twitter Tuesday morning.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public,” he wrote.
Volker Testimony and Text Messages
In addition to upsetting Democrats, the administration’s endeavor to bar Sondland’s testimony will likely have major repercussions, especially because of Sondland’s role in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and Zelensky.
Before serving as the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Sondland was a major donor to Trump and reportedly donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Sondland was appointed to his position back in March 2018, despite the fact that he appears to have no official political or diplomatic experience.
Sondland was mentioned by name in the whistleblower’s complaint alongside Volker.
In the complaint, the whistleblower wrote that Volker and Sondland “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”
The complaint also notes that the two men, along with other State Department officials, “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”
Volker testified behind closed doors on Thursday. Later that night, the House released a set of text messages between Volker, Sondland, and other officials including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a top aide to Zelensky named Andrey Yermak, and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine.
In one of the exchanges between Sondland and Volker from July 19, a few days before Trump’s call with Zelensky, Volker texted Sondland about plans for the call.
“Most [important] is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation—and address any specific personnel issues—if there are any,” he wrote.
In another text preparing for the call two days after that, Taylor noted that Zelensky “is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”
To which Sondland responded, “Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I am worried about the alternative.”
Then, on July 25, the morning of the call, Volker texted Yermak, “Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!”
Skipping ahead a month to Aug. 28, Yermak texted Volker a news story titled “Trump Holds Up Ukraine Military Aid Meant to Confront Russia” and said “we need to talk.”
A few days later on Sept. 1, Taylor pressed Sondland on the aid to Ukraine.
“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” he asked. Sondland responded by asking Taylor to call him.
After that, the conversations started to shift heavily towards the decision to withhold aid. In a Sept. 9 text, Taylor expressed doubt about the plan in his messages to Sondland.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” he wrote.
“I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Sondland responded. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
House Democrats said Tuesday they plan on issuing a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Axios) (The Washington Post)
Turkey Prepares for Military Operation as US Troops Start Leaving Syria
- The Trump administration announced Sunday that it would be stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria.
- Many condemned the move and argued that the U.S. was clearly abandoning U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that have been on the frontlines fighting against ISIS alongside U.S. troops in the region.
- On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed that troops in Syria were already being removed following the announcement.
White House Announcement
U.S. troops began withdrawing from Syria on Monday, following a controversial announcement by the White House a day prior that U.S. forces will stand aside as Turkey launches a military offensive in Northern Syria.
The statement, made by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the statement said. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
The statement went on to say that the U.S. has “pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.”
“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” it continued. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”
It is unclear from that statement whether or not all of the nearly 1,000 troops in the region will be removed. What is clear is that the announcement comes as a major shift in U.S. policy in the region that many on both sides of the aisle oppose.
U.S. Kurdish Allies
The announcement comes as a clear sign that the U.S. is abandoning its main ally in the fight against ISIS: Kurdish forces near the Syrian border.
U.S. forces on the ground in Syria have recruited and trained the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces for years. Those forces have done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters.
That is also not all they have done. Despite the claim in the White House’s statement that the U.S. is holding captured ISIS fighters at the taxpayer’s expense, it is actually Kurdish forces, and not the U.S., that have kept ISIS fighters and their family members in makeshift camps in Northern Syria.
For a while, Erdogan has been critical of the U.S.’s alliance with the Kurdish forces. Turkey has a separatist movement near its border with Syria made of Kurds, called the PKK. Turkey claims that the YPG and PKK are allied and considers them both terrorists.
The Turkish operation is geared to use military force to clear “terrorists” east of the Euphrates river, a region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG.
When Turkey says it is going to target terrorists east of the Euphrates River, many believe it is a clear message that they plan to remove Kurdish forces from their borders.
Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have also warned that allowing Turkey to go forward with a military operation will send a bad message about U.S. commitment to its allies.
But any bloodshed and damage a Turkish military operation against the Kurds in Syria will bring is not the only concern for the U.S.
Sunday’s announcement reportedly also goes against the recommendations of top U.S. officials in the Pentagon and the State Department.
Military officials have also argued that the U.S. needs the Kurdish forces to fight against an ISIS resurgence, as well as to guard the facilities where ISIS militants and their families are being held.
Those concerns were echoed in a series of tweets from the SDF on Sunday, where the group argued that a Turkish attack would “Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs.”
(3)— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 7, 2019
Any #Turkish attack will result in:
1. Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs of our sons & daughters over 5 years of war, which led to destroy the caliphate & created stability & security for the people of NE #Syria.
The SDF also said that the move will lead to “The return of leaders of #ISIS” and that ISIS would break out the nearly 12,000 prisoners held by Kurdish forces.
( 5)— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 7, 2019
3. The return of leaders of #ISIS who are hidden in the desert & Euphrates Shield areas to in of NE #Syria. #ISIS cells will break their terrorist out of prisons (12K terrorists) & camps ( 70K #Daesh families) which is a threat to local & international security.@CJTFOIR
A great number of prominent lawmakers, including some of Trump’s main allies, also responded to Trump, condemning the move.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote a laundry list of tweets Monday criticizing the move, calling it a “disaster in the making,” and claiming it “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”
* Ensures ISIS comeback.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
* Forces Kurds to align with Assad and Iran.
* Destroys Turkey’s relationship with U.S. Congress.
* Will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.
“If this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision,” he wrote. “Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.”
Also, if this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision. Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways,” he later added.
By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also responded while speaking Fox News.
“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said. “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”
Speaker of the House Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also spoke out against the president’s efforts.
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup,” he said in a statement. “American interests are best served by leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”
Trump Defends Himself
Trump still defended his decision on Twitter.
“When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,” he wrote, before going on to say that Europe has refused to take back captured ISIS fighters the U.S. is holding. “As usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything.”
“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” he continued. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”
…..again said “NO,” thinking, as usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything. The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
…figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their “neighborhood.” They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood,’” he added. “They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”
Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was a big campaign promise of Trump’s. In December 2018, the president made a sudden announcement that ISIS had been defeated and that he was withdrawing all military personnel from Syria.
That decision received significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as military and foreign policy personnel in the Trump Administration.
However both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence doubled-down on the claim that ISIS was defeated in the region, even after Islamic State agents took responsibility for a suicide bombing in January, that left 19 people, including four Americans, dead in a U.S.-controlled city in Syria.
Toward the end of February, the Trump administration made a significant reversal and announced that it would leave about 400 troops in the region. In early March, several members of Congress wrote Trump a letter urging him to keep troops in Syria. Trump responded to that letter, writing “I agree 100%”
Now, the administration’s most recent decision seems to be a definitive shift towards troop removal, and critics of the plan appear to have similar precautions as last time Trump made a similar effort.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Acting DNI Testifies After Release of Whistleblower Complaint
- Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before Congress about his handling of the whistleblower complaint alleging Trump acted inappropriately on a call with the President of Ukraine.
- The complaint was released to the public on the same day as Maguire’s testimony.
- In it, the whistleblower wrote: “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.”
- Among other things, the whistleblower complaint details the call between the two leaders, key events and meetings regarding the President and his administration both before and after the call, and alleged efforts by some in the administration to hide records of the call and other calls with foreign leaders.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday following the release of the whistleblower complaint alleging that President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.
Maguire’s testimony follows the public release of a memorandum detailing the call between Trump and Zelensky on Wednesday, which showed Trump asking Zelensky to look into Biden.
Maguire has received backlash over the way he handled the complaint, specifically because he did not turn it over to Congress as mandated under the law.
In his opening remarks, Maguire defended his handling of the complaint, including his decision to hold it as long as he did, noting that the whole situation was unprecedented. He also added that he was following the Whistleblower Act in his decision making.
Maguire said he believed the whistleblower was acting in good faith and added, “I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.” It’s also worth noting that Maquire does not know the identity of the whistleblower, and thus he would not know the whistleblower’s gender.
The testimony also comes as the whistleblower’s complaint was publicly released with minimal redactions earlier on Thursday morning.
Here are some key excerpts from that complaint.
The whistleblower starts out with this passage:
“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.”
They also note that Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr are involved.
The whistleblower goes on to say that they had received this information “over the past four months” from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials.”
Notably, they say that they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” but added, “I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”
This goes back to claims from Trump and others that the whistleblower was not a first-hand witness. Though to be clear, they are saying they did not witness most of the events, not all of them.
“I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order,’” the complaint continues. “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.”
The whistleblower then outlines those actions through a series of different sections.
The 25 July Presidential Phone Call
The first section is titled “The 25 July Presidential phone call” and details the call between Trump and Zelensky.
The whistleblower says it was the first publicly acknowledged call between the leaders since a quick congratulatory call after Zelensky won his election. Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he had an earlier call with Zelensky, and say he would release the transcript of that call if asked.
“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,” the whistleblower wrote regarding the July 25 call. “Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukranian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”
They then go on to note the actions detailed in the memo for the call, adding, “The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me 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.”
Efforts to Restrict Access to Records Related to the Call
The second section is called “Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.”
“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,” the whistleblower states. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored,” they continued, elaborating that instead of storing it where it is normally stored, it was loaded into a separate electronic system “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”
“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,” they note.
“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 whistleblower continues later.
Ongoing Concerns & Circumstances Leading Up to the 25 July Presidential Phone Call
The third and fourth sections of the complaint are titled “Ongoing concerns” and “Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call.”
In these sections, the whistleblower said that multiple officials told them that Giuliani had: “Reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers.”
Later, the whistleblower adds that even before the call, starting in mid-May, officials told them “That they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukranian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”
They also talk about efforts made after the call by two ambassadors who “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”
They go on to say that officials told them that State Department officials, including the same two ambassadors “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”
Notably, the whistleblower says: “During this same time frame, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired” by the former Ukraine prosecutor general and Giuliani.
They noted that information was conveyed to them by U.S. officials, but that they do not know “who delivered this message to the Ukranian leadership, or when.”
The whistleblower elaborates on that in an appendix, where they say that U.S. officials told them that Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his trip to attend Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, and instead sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“According to these officials, it was also ‘made clear’ to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy ‘chose to act’ in office,” they added.
Here, the whistleblower again notes that they do not know how that was communicated or by whom, and also that they do not know if that action was directly “connected with the broader understanding” that a meeting or call between Trump and Zelensky would “depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’”
The last thing the whistleblower includes in the complaint is about aid to Ukraine. They write that on July 18, an official from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) informed other departments and agencies “That the President ‘earlier that month’ had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.”
They say that neither OMB nor the National Security Council staff knew why Trump had made that decision, but add that OMB officials had explicitly said that the order came directly from the president.
“As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukranian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy,” the complaint continues. “But I do not know how or when they learned of it.”
Quid Pro Quo Debate & Pentagon Letter
The last few excerpts about Zelensky being willing to “play ball” and about Trump putting a hold on the military aid will likely shift the debate about whether or not there was implicit pressure for a quid pro quo.
Trump did not outright say “look into Biden and I’ll give you something in return,” but some have argued that Trump was holding back nearly $400 million in military and security aid as leverage over Zelensky.
Trump for his part has said that he decided to hold back the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
However, on Wednesday evening, NPR obtained a letter from the Pentagon sent to four congressional committees back in May that appears to contradict that claim.
In the letter, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood wrote that he, “certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability.”
As NPR explains, that certification is required under the law for that aid to be released to Ukraine. Basically, the undersecretary said in his letter he had certified that Ukraine had met its corruption reduction goals and that the aid was good to go.
After that, the Defense Department announced it would be sending the aid to Ukraine back in June. The White House then blocked that aid before Trump’s call with Zelensky in July.
That aid was released to Ukraine on Sept. 11 after Congress learned the aid was being withheld and demanded it be given to Ukraine. That demand came right around the time Congress was first informed about the whistleblower complaint.