House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a whistle-blower’s claim that White House officials intervened to ‘lock down’ notes on a politically explosive phone call President Trump had with the leader of Ukraine constituted a cover-up.
‘This is a cover-up,’ Pelosi told reporters during a Capitol press conference, just days after coming out to say the House was engaged in a formal impeachment inquiry of the president.
Pelosi said the president ‘betrayed his oath of office, our national security and the integrity’ of U.S. elections.’
She pointed to a key new revelation within a whistle-blower’s complaint that was declassified Thursday morning. The complaint references the president’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky where Trump sought an investigation of a company tied to rival Joe Biden’s son.
‘This is a cover-up,’ Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Thursday
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff characterized the call as a mob-style ‘shakedown.’
The whistle-blower also points to how the contents of that call were stored – saying senior White House officials intervened to ‘lock down’ all records related to the call, including the bombshell transcript the White House released Wednesday.
Transcripts were removed from a typical system and placed inside a separate system normally used for ‘especially sensitive’ information. A White House official described it as an ‘abuse,’ according to the complaint.
The House Intelligence Committee Thursday published the bombshell complaint at the center of the growing scandal facing Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.
The seven-page document was declassified overnight after lawmakers had viewed it, hours after the transcript of the call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky was published was published by the Department of Justice.
It levels a series of charges at Donald Trump and the White House including that:
- Trump ‘is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election’;
- His personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani is accused of being ‘a central figure,’ and the attorney general Bill Barr ‘appears to be involved as well’;
- The call between Trump and Zelensky saw the president try to ‘advance his personal interests’;
- White House lawyers feared the officials who listened to the call ‘witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain’;
- White House lawyers tried to ‘lock down’ the call by restricting the official transcript’s distribution and placing it in a classified computer system usually used for ‘covert action’ without justification;
- One White House official ‘described the act as abuse,’ the whistle-blower said;
- Other ‘politically sensitive – rather than national security sensitive’ calls between Trump and foreign leaders have been dealt with in the same way;
- There are more notes of the call – not just the transcript which was published Wednesday;
- That ‘multiple U.S. officials’ expressed concern about Rudy Giuliani being involved in Ukraine;
- That attorney-general William Barr ‘appears to be involved as well.’
The disclosure of the complaint, just a day after the release of a transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, set off immediate reverberations.
Giuliani told CNN from his room at the Trump International Hotel he had ‘no knowledge of any of that crap.’
The former New York mayor denied the whistle-blower’s claim that two State Department officials spoke to him to ‘contain the damage’ of his Ukraine dealings, and indicated his text messages with special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker would establish he wasn’t freelancing.
I spoke to the State Department during the course of this situation, I told you, at least 10 times, and I met with them,’ he said, adding he had a ‘nice little trail’ of texts to back up his claims.
The letter does not disclose the whistle-blower’s identity but makes clear that they are a senior figure – they disclose that they were provided a ‘readout’ of the call.
They say that they were not one of the officials who listened in to Trump’s call but says: ‘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.’
But the explosive core of the charge against Trump is less likely to be about Ukraine but about a wide-ranging cover-up.
Call: The conversation on July 25 between Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump is now at the center of a metastasizing Washington D.C. scandal with fuel poured on it by the publication of the whistle-blower’s complaint
In the spotlight: The complaint alleges both Rudy Giuliani – the president’s private attorney – and Bill Barr, the attorney-general are both named as being part of the alleged abuse of power
The whistle-blower says after the call, they 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.’
To the whistle-blower, this underscored ‘White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.’
White House officials said they were ‘directed’ by lawyers to remove the transcript from the typical White House computer system for storage.
It was loaded on to a ‘separate electronic system’ – one the whistle-blower notes normally associated with ‘covert activity.’
The whistle-blower describes readouts of Special Ukraine Representative Kurt Volker’s trips to the country.
According to those readouts, Volker and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union counseled the Ukrainians how to ‘navigate’ the president’s directives.
The whistle-blower also describes hearing form U.S. officials what has been publicly reported, that Giuliani traveled to Madrid to meet with one of Zelensky’s advisors, Andrey Yermak.
Using what could be code for the Biden investigation Trump sought, officials said the meeting was ‘direct follow-up’ to the Trump Zelensky phone call and the ‘cases’ they discussed. The call contains only mention of one case, the company tied to Hunter Biden, as well as Trump’s reference to the hacked Democratic server from the 2016 election.
The whistle-blower names Zelensky advisors who Giuliani approached. Officials told the whistle-blower two of them were planning a trip to Washington in August.
The official also talks about the extraordinary decision to call back the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, for ‘consultations’
Trump’s July 25 call features the president calling the U.S. diplomat a ‘bad news,’ and Zelensky agreeing that he was the ‘first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 per cent.’
The whistle-blower learned from U.S. officials that Yovanovitch was likely to be removed on April 29. The person learned that she was recalled due to ‘pressure stemming from Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations’ – a reference to claims by the Ukrainian prosecutor.
Ukraine links: Joe Biden made multiple trips there and demanded action on corruption; Hunter was on the board of a natural gas firm which faced money-laundering accusations
Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who Trump praised on the July call, had made a series of allegations about the 2016 election which were at odds with the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia hacked Democratic servers.
Lutsenko also said Biden’s pressure on prior Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire an earlier prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was done to stop an investigation of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy firm where Hunter Biden served on the board.
Giuliani has pushed those twin claims – dealing with the 2016 elections and Biden’s actions – in his public efforts on behalf of Trump.
The whistle-blower also cited public comments by Lutsenko to communicate with Attorney General William Barr, who Trump mentioned repeatedly on his call with Zelensky.
Days after the State Department announced Ambassador Yovanovich’s removal, the New York Times reported that Giuliani had planned to travel to Ukraine in an effort he said could help his client and help the United States.
The whistle-blower reports hearing from ‘multiple’ U.S. officials ‘that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decision-making process to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.’
The whistle-blower said Volker and U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland tried to help Ukrainians ‘understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other,’ the person said.
Trump’s infamous July phone call with Zelensky was only set up after bargaining. The call would ‘depend’ on whether Zelnsky showed a willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues raised by Giuliani and Lutsenko, according to the complaint.
The whistle-blower weaves together multiple public comments and accounts with inside information. The person cites Trump’s statement to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he would accept information on his political rivals.
It was in mid-July that the whistle-blower learned of a ‘sudden change in policy’ to withhold hundreds of millions of U.S. security aid to Ukraine.
An appendix provided by the whistle-blower provides more detail about the secret server where the transcript of Trump’s explosive Ukraine call was placed.
During the call, right after Zelensky thanks him for U.S. defense support and says his country is ‘almost ready’ to purchase U.S. anti-tank missiles, Trump responds: ‘I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it,’ according to a transcript the White House released Wednesday.
Trump then brings up an investigation he wants regarding 2016 election hacking, then adds: ‘There is 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.’
According to the whistle-blower, who Director of National of Inteligence Joseph Maguire says ‘did the right thing’ by coming forward, the contents of the call were put on a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council (NSC) Directorate for Intelligence Programs.’
It is a ‘standalone’ computer system ‘reserved for codeword-level intelligence information, such as cover action,’ according to the whistle-blower. Codeword intelligence is the highest classification level.
The whistle-blower claim 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 whistle-blower also reports learning around May 14 that President Trump ‘instructed’ Vice President Mike Pence to cancel a planned trip to Ukraine. Pence was to have attended Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry went instead. U.S. officials ‘made it clear’ to the whistle-blower that Trump didn’t want to meet Zelenksy ‘until he saw how Zelensky “chose to act” in office.’
READ THE FULL COMPLAINT
READ THE WHOLE DECLASSIFIED TRANSCRIPT OF DONALD TRUMP’S CALL WITH UKRAINE’S VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY
Spelling in this transcript is per the White House
Declassified by order of the President’ September 24, 2019
MEMORANDUM OF TELEPHONE CONVERSATION
SUBJECT: Telephone Conversation with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine
PARTICIPANTS: President Zelenskyy of Ukraine
Notetakers: The White House Situation Room
DATE, TIME AND PLACE: July 25, 2019, 9:03 – 9:33 a.m. EDT Residence
The President: Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States and you did a terrific job. The way you came from behind, somebody who wasn’t given much of a chance, and you ended up winning easily. It’s a fantastic achievement. Congratulations.
President Zelenskyy: You are absolutely right Mr. President. We did win big and we worked hard for this. We worked a lot but I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and were able to use it as an example for our elections – and yes it is true that these were unique elections. We were in a unique situation that we were able to achieve a unique success. I’m able to tell you the following; the first time, you called me to congratulate me when I won my presidential election, and the second time you are now calling me when my party won the parliamentary election. I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.
The President: [laughter] That’s a very good idea. I think your country is very happy about that.
President Zelenskyy: Well yes, to tell you the truth, we are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country. We brought in many many new people. Not the old politicians, not the typical politicians, because we want to have a new format and a new type of government . You are a great teacher for us and in that.
The President: Well it is very nice of you to say that. 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 and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn’t do anything. A lot of the European countries are the same way so I think it’s.something you want to look at but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine. 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.
President Zelenskyy: Yes you are absolutely right. Not only 100%, but actually 1000% and I can tell you the following; I did talk to Angela Merkel and I did meet.with her. I also met and talked with Macron and I told them that they are not doing quite as much as they need to be doing on the issues with the sanctions. They are not enforcing the sanctions. They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine. It turns out that even though logically, the European Union should be our biggest partner but technically the United States is a much bigger partner than the European Union and I’m very grateful to you for that because the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine. Much more than the European Union especially when we are talking about sanctions against the Russian Federation. I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.
The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There- are a lot. of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. 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.
President Zelenskyy: Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine. For that purpose, I just recalled our ambassador from United States and he will be replaced by a very competent and very experienced ambassador who will work hard on making sure that our two nations are getting closer. I would also like and hope to see him having your trust and your confidence and have personal relations with you so we can cooperate even more so. I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us. I will make sure that I surround myself with the best and most experienced people. I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.
The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine .were bad news so I just want to let you know that. 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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.
President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one. who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.
The President: Well, she’ s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, their incredible people.
President Zelenskyy: I would like to tell you that I also have quite a few Ukrainian friends that live in the United States. Actually last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower. I will talk to them and I hope to see them again in the future. I also wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On ,the other hand, I also wanted to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation. As to the economy, there is much potential for our two countries and one of the issues. that is very important for Ukraine is energy independence. I believe we can be very successful and cooperating on energy independence with United States. We are already working on cooperation. We are buying American oil but I am very hopeful for a future meeting. We will have more time and more opportunities to discuss these opportunities and get to know each other better. I would like to thank you very much for your support .
The President: Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that. out. I look forward to seeing you.
President Zelenskyy: Thank you very much. I would be very happy to come and would be happy to meet with you personally and I get to know you better. I am looking forward to our meeting and I also would like to invite you to visit Ukraine and come to the city of Kyiv which is a beautiful city. We have a beautiful country which would welcome you. On the other hand, I believe that on September 1 we will be in Poland and we can meet in Poland hopefully. After that, it might be a very good idea for you to travel to Ukraine. We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.
The President: Okay, we can work that out. I look forward to seeing you in Washington and maybe in Poland because I think we are going to be there at that time.
President Zelenskyy: Thank you very much Mr. President.
The President: Congratulations on a fantastic job you’ve done. The whole world was watching. I’m not sure it was so much of an upset but congratulations.
President Zelenskyy: Thank you Mr. President bye-bye.