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Trump Responds to House Intelligence Hearing About Ukraine Whistleblower Complaint

Published on 27 Sep 2019 / In News & Politics

Donald Trump says that his July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine was “perfect.” But it so alarmed White House and administration officials that they allegedly concealed records of the conversation.

An extraordinary whistle-blower’s complaint made public on Thursday, deemed “credible” by the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community, claims that White House officials “were deeply disturbed” by the call and attempted to “lock down” a transcript by placing it in a system normally used for sensitive classified information.

There were ongoing discussions within the White House about how to handle the call, according to the complaint. Trump spent much of the 30-minute call pressing the Ukrainian president, Volodomyr Zelenskiy, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, as Zelenskiy was seeking additional U.S. military aid to fight Russia-backed separatists.

And there was internal disagreement about whether the whistle-blower’s complaint should be provided to Congress. The whistle-blower -- an unidentified U.S. intelligence official -- made the complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, on Aug. 12.

Taken together, the events suggest that White House officials feared the appearance of a quid pro quo when the president asked Zelenskiy to investigate Ukraine’s role in a hack of Democratic e-mails in 2016, as well as the man who at the time was the Democratic front-runner to challenge Trump’s re-election. Democrats have been quick to invoke the language of Watergate, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the Trump administration’s actions a “cover-up” on Thursday.

Trump insisted again on Thursday that he had not done anything wrong in the call and that Zelenskiy, whom he met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, had agreed with him.

“My call was perfect,” he told reporters after returning to Washington from the summit. “The president, yesterday, of Ukraine said there was no pressure put on him whatsoever, none whatsoever.”

The whistle-blower intended his or her letter to be delivered to Congress immediately, specifying that it was “UNCLASSIFIED” and citing a law allowing intelligence matters of “urgent concern” to be reported to lawmakers. Atkinson, in an Aug. 26 letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, said that he agreed the complaint represented an “urgent concern.”

But Maguire didn’t hand over the complaint, claiming he disagreed with Atkinson’s reasoning. He relied in part on Justice Department advice that he wasn’t obligated to submit the complaint to Congress.

Attorney General William Barr -- who the whistle-blower said “appears to be involved” in Trump’s effort to ennlist Zelenskiy in an investigation of Biden -- declined to recuse himself from the matter. Justice officials say he wasn’t involved in the analysis of the complaint.

The Justice Department’s criminal division conducted a preliminary review into whether Trump violated election laws and determined he did not.

Maguire said in testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he consulted with the White House and Justice Department, but was never explicitly ordered not to release the complaint.

Trump relented to demands for more information about his interactions with Zelenskiy this week, only after mounting pressure from Democrats and some Republicans. On Wednesday, he first declassified and released a memorandum documenting his July 25 phone call, then provided the whistle-blower complaint and Atkinson’s letter to Congress. Those documents were declassified and released to the public on Thursday.

Before the call, Trump had ordered a freeze on $250 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine. The whistle-blower’s complaint provides a relatively concrete timeline for the suspension.

An unnamed Office of Management and Budget official told federal agencies on July 18 that Trump had ordered the military aid suspended earlier that month, according to the complaint. In meetings on July 23 and 26 -- two days before and one day after Trump’s call with Zelenskiy -- OMB officials reiterated the suspension, and said “explicitly” that Trump had ordered it, the whistle-blower said.

The aid was released on Sept. 11, the day before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee planned a vote to force the Trump administration to send the aid to Ukraine.

Read more: https://bloom.bg/2m2hvEX

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