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Highlights of Whistleblower's Complaint About Trump's Interactions With Ukraine

By Masood Farivar September 26, 2019

The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released a copy of an intelligence community whistleblower's complaint that this week triggered a House of Representatives impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

Among other episodes, the nine-page document, filed Aug. 12 and addressed to the chairmen of the congressional intelligence committees, describes a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during which Trump "pressured" Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of the Democratic Party. The complaint then recounts how White House officials, worried about the "gravity" of what had transpired during the call, sought to suppress a detailed account of the conversation.

Here are key highlights of the complaint.

The main allegation

The whistleblower's central claim is that Trump is "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election." This claim is largely based on an allegation that Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to probe the Bidens' dealings with the Ukrainian government in search of dirt to use against Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate for president. "I am deeply concerned," the whistleblower writes, that that the actions described in the complaint constitute a violation of U.S. laws and "undermine the U.S. Government's efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections."

The complaint's source of information

The complaint is largely based on information the whistleblower received from "multiple U.S. Government officials" over the four months leading up to the filing of the complaint in August. While not present during Trump's call to Zelenskiy, the whistleblower says that several officials "with direct knowledge of the call" provided a consistent account of what transpired, substantiating its authenticity.

The leadup to the July 25 call

Prior to the July 25 call, Ukrainian officials, including Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, made a series of unsubstantiated allegations against U.S. officials that according to the whistleblower inspired Trump's demands for investigations of Biden and others. The officials made three major claims in articles later published in The Hill newspaper in late March:

– They claimed to have "evidence" that former Ukrainian officials had "interfered" in the 2016 U.S. election in coordination with the Democratic National Committee and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

– They said the U.S. Embassy "had allegedly obstructed Ukrainian law enforcement agencies' pursuit of corruption cases" and blocked Ukrainian prosecutors from traveling to the United States in order "to prevent them from delivering their evidence" about the 2016 U.S. election.

– They asserted that Biden had pressured then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2016 to fire the country's top prosecutor in an effort to "quash" a criminal investigation into Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, on whose board Hunter Biden sat.

In public comments, Lutsenko also expressed a desire to meet with Attorney General William Barr to discuss the claims. The proposed meeting with Barr didn't take place, but Lutsenko did meet twice with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, in January and February to press for an investigation.

Lutsenko later retracted many of his allegations, but they apparently caught Trump's attention. In an April 25 interview with Fox News, according to the whistleblower's complaint, Trump called the former Ukrainian prosecutor's claims "big" and "incredible" and said that Barr "would want to see this."

Ukrainian officials in turn were "led to believe that a meeting or phone call" between Trump and Zelenskiy would depend on whether Zelenskiy showed willingness to "play ball" on the issue that had been publicly aired by Lutsenko and Giuliani, according to the complaint.

July 25 phone call

The critical July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy came at a time when, unbeknown to the newly elected Ukrainian president, the Trump administration had suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv, according to the complaint. Citing White House officials with direct knowledge of the call, the whistleblower alleges that Trump spent most of the call pressing a series of demands on the Ukrainian leader, including:

– Investigate the activities of Biden and his son. Hunter Biden had collected sizable fees when he sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company.

– Probe allegations that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrats.

– Locate and turn over Democratic National Committee computer servers hacked during the 2016 election.

– Meet or talk to Trump's "personal envoys on these matters": Giuliani and Barr.

White House response

The call was supposed to be a routine Trump conversation with another world leader, with nearly a dozen White House officials listening in. But in the days that followed, according to the complaint, White House officials grew so worried that they had "witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain" that they sought to "lock down" all records about the call. White House attorneys ordered that an official verbatim transcription of the call be removed from a computer system for transcripts and placed in a system that is used "to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature."

"This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call," the whistleblower wrote.

Ongoing concerns

The day after the Trump-Zelenskiy call, two top U.S. officials – Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland – met with Zelenskiy and senior Ukrainian officials to advise them on "how to navigate" the demands that the president had made of Zelenskiy, according to the complaint.

Giuliani meeting with Zelensky adviser

Giuliani figures as a central player in Trump's alleged campaign to pressure Ukrainian leaders. The complaint describes a meeting in early August between Giuliani and one of Zelensky's advisers in Madrid as a "follow-up" to Trump's July 25 call. In addition, the complaint alleges that Giuliani had reached out to several other top Ukrainian officials. The whistleblower writes that U.S. officials "were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr Giuliani's circumvention of national security requirement processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President."

Trump cancels Pence's Ukraine trip

In a two-page supplement to the official complaint, the whistleblower describes two episodes in the broader context of Trump's efforts to "pressure" Ukrainian leaders.

Around May 4, Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his plans to attend Zelenskiy's May 20 inauguration. Energy Secretary Rick Perry instead led the U.S. delegation. According to U.S. officials, "it was also 'made clear' to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskiy until he saw how Zelensky 'chose to act in office,' " the document says.

Then in July, days before his call with Zelenskiy, Trump personally ordered a suspension of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, according to the complaint. "As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it," the whistleblower writes.

However, the whistleblower does not conclusively state that Trump took these actions in order to press Ukraine into undertaking investigations of Biden and others.

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