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Whistleblower: White House officials 'locked down' transcript of call with Ukrainian leader

According to the intelligence community official, the transcript was loaded into a system that is used to store “especially sensitive” classified information.

Image: Sachs Ron/PA

A WHISTLEBLOWER WHO made a number of allegations about US President Donald Trump’s conduct claimed the White House intervened to “lock down” the transcript of a call with the Ukranian president.

A summary of the 25 July conversation was released yesterday and revealed Trump urged  Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden.

It shows Trump stated US Attorney General Bill Barr and the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani would be in touch about probing the Ukraine-related activities of Biden and his son.

The whistleblower, an unidentified intelligence community official, contacted the two select committees on intelligence last month about the call. The top-secret complaint was declassified by the administration and released by Congress today. 

In it, the whistleblower said they had been told by multiple White House officials that Trump used the call to “advance his personal interests”, including asking Zelensky to:

  • Initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of Joe Biden’s son;
  • Assist in purportedly uncovering that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections originiated in Ukraine; and
  • Meet or speak with Giuliani and Barr on these issues. 

“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phonecall,” the whistleblower wrote.

“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 official said that in the days that followed the phonecall they learned that senior White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records of the phonecall.

White House officials told me they were “directed” by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalisation and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.

The transcript, according to the whistleblower, was instead loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise 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.”

The whistleblower said they were concerned these actions “pose a risk to US national security and undermine the US government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in US elections”.

The anonymous official presented the nine-page complaint on 12 August to the inspector general of the intelligence community, a Trump appointee who found it a credible and “urgent concern” and forwarded it to the acting Director of National Intelligence.

But the DNI, Joseph Maguire, at first refused to deliver the complaint to Congress, raising concerns from Democrats that members of Trump’s administration were improperly protecting the president.

With the scandal swelling, the top Democrat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accused Trump of betraying his oath of office as she announced an official impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

Trump has acknowledged that he urged Ukraine to launch an anti-corruption probe against Biden, potentially his chief rival in the 2020 presidential race, and Biden’s son. He says he exerted “no pressure” on Kiev – a claim echoed by Zelensky.

Critics say Trump had held up $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, to be released only on condition that it investigate the Bidens.

The non-verbatim record of the call released yesterday did not show Trump explicitly tying aid to Zelensky probing Biden and the White House said the complaint showed Trump did “nothing improper.”

“The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats,” Trump’s press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

Maguire, Trump’s top intelligence official, was testified before the House Intelligence Committee about why he originally withheld the complaint from Congress.

Maguire told lawmakers that while he believed the whistleblower had “acted in good faith” and followed the law, the DNI withheld the complaint from Congress because the Trump call was subject to executive privilege.

But Democrats condemned the actions of the White House and the president as a cover-up.

Some Republicans have also voiced deep concerns over the latest revelations.

“There is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning,” House Republican Will Hurd said. “We need to fully investigate all of the allegations.”

- With reporting from AFP. 

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