White House officials disturbed by US President Donald Trump's call: Whistle-blower

Mr Joseph Maguire, acting director of National Intelligence, testifying before the US House Intelligence Committee in Washington yesterday over the whistle-blower's complaint against President Donald Trump. Mr Maguire told the committee that he belie
Mr Joseph Maguire, acting director of National Intelligence, testifying before the US House Intelligence Committee in Washington yesterday over the whistle-blower's complaint against President Donald Trump. Mr Maguire told the committee that he believes the whistle-blower and the intelligence community's inspector-general acted in "good faith". PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Complaint made public says they tried to 'lock down' records of call with Ukraine President

WASHINGTON • Multiple White House officials were "deeply disturbed" by US President Donald Trump's call with the Ukrainian President, and the administration attempted to "lock down" records of the interaction, according to a whistle-blower's complaint made public yesterday.

The complaint from the whistle-blower, who has not been publicly identified, "appears credible", the intelligence community's inspector-general said in a separate letter released yesterday by the House Intelligence Committee. The information in the complaint was gathered from multiple US officials, according to the whistle-blower's account.

"The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. 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 complaint said.

The whistle-blower said senior White House officials used unusual procedures when handling the records of Mr Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volody-myr Zelensky. They said it was not the first time that a presidential transcript was put into a "code word-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive - rather than national security-sensitive - information".

The whistle-blower's complaint points to possible violations of campaign finance law and an attempt by a public official to seek foreign assistance to interfere in or influence a federal election, which would constitute a "serious or flagrant problem (or) abuse" under the law.

The letter from the inspector-general to acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was declassified and released along with a redacted version of the whistle-blower's complaint ahead of a hearing by the House panel.

Mr Maguire told the House Intelligence Committee in public testimony yesterday that he believes the whistle-blower and the intelligence community's inspector-general acted in "good faith".

Mr Maguire has been at the centre of the controversy for refusing - on the advice of the Justice Department and the White House Counsel - to hand over the whistle-blower's complaint to Congress for over two weeks since its existence was made known to the heads of the congressional intelligence committees. The complaint, which was filed in mid-August, centres on Mr Trump and his July 25 phone call with Mr Zelensky and alleges that Mr Trump "is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election", according to a declassified version released by lawmakers.

 
 
 
 

Mr Maguire said he upheld his "responsibility to follow the law every step of the way" as he reviewed an intelligence community whistle-blower's complaint. He said he could not legally release the complaint because of executive privilege, which he says is a privilege he "did not have the authority to waive".

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday the White House's effort to "lock down" the Trump-Ukraine call shows "this is a cover-up".

The White House claims the whistle-blower's complaint about Mr Trump's efforts to seek dirt from Ukraine on former vice-president Joe Biden "shows nothing improper". Press secretary Stephanie Grisham argued the complaint "is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings".

Ms Grisham added that Mr Trump had released on Wednesday a rough transcript of his call "because he has nothing to hide".

Several White House aides and Trump loyalists expressed scepticism about the whistle-blower's credibility.

But a former administration official said the complaint had deepened the jeopardy for Mr Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The whistle-blower laid out a series of events going back months, involving Mr Giuliani publicly and privately trying to get Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son Hunter.

BLOOMBERG, ASSOCIATED PRESS, WASHINGTON POST

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2019, with the headline 'White House officials disturbed by Trump call: Whistle-blower'. Print Edition | Subscribe