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Whistleblower: White House tried to ‘lock down’ details of Trump’s Ukraine call

Politicians have been given a redacted, declassified version of the complaint that can be made public.

The White House in Washington (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
The White House in Washington (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

By Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press

The secret whistleblower complaint at the centre of Congress’s impeachment inquiry alleges that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in next year’s US election.

The White House then tried to “lock down” the information to cover it up, the complaint says.

The nine-page document was released ahead of evidence to House of Representatives investigators from Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence.

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Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire gives evidence before the House intelligence committee on Capitol Hill in Washington (Andrew Harnik/AP)

He acknowledged that the complaint alleged serious wrongdoing by the president but insisted that it was not his role to judge whether the allegations were credible or not.

Mr Maguire said he was unfamiliar with any other whistleblower complaint in American history that “touched on such complicated and sensitive issues”.

“I believe that this matter is unprecedented,” he said.

The document, with its precise detail and clear narrative, is likely to accelerate the impeachment process and put more pressure on Mr Trump to rebut its core contentions and on his fellow Republicans to defend him.

The complaint provides a road map for corroborating witnesses and evidence, which will complicate the president’s effort to characterise the findings as those of a lone partisan out to undermine him.

Mr Trump insisted afresh that it is all political.

After the complaint was released, he immediately tweeted in capital letters: “The Democrats are trying to destroy the Republican Party and all that it stands for. Stick together, play their game and fight hard Republicans. Our country is at stake.”

The whistleblower complaint centres in part on a July phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Mr Trump prodded Mr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with US President Donald Trump in New York (Evan Vucci/AP)

The White House released a rough transcript of that call on Wednesday.

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple US officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all the records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House situation room,” the complaint says.

The anonymous whistleblower says that despite his or her not being present for the call, multiple White House officials shared consistent details about it.

Those officials told the whistleblower that “this was ‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive – rather than national security sensitive – information”, the complaint said.

The whistleblower said that White House officials had tried to suppress the exact transcript of the call that was produced – as is customary – by the White House Situation Room, according to the complaint.

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

“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the report said.

The whistleblower said that White House officials had raised concerns that the rough transcript was moved to a separate computer system that is “reserved for codeword-level intelligence information”.

The complaint also focuses on Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

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Rudy Giuliani (Jason DeCrow/AP)

It says that multiple US officials reported that Mr Giuliani travelled to Madrid one week after the call to meet with one of Mr Zelenskiy’s advisers, and that the meeting was characterised as a follow-up to the telephone conversation between the two leaders

House Democrats who are now mulling Mr Trump’s impeachment are hoping Mr Maguire will explain why he withheld the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint from Congress for weeks.

Mr Maguire will then go behind closed doors to speak to the Senate intelligence panel.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday endorsed an impeachment investigation in light of the Ukraine revelations.

In a statement on Thursday, the White House said “nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings – all of which shows nothing improper”.

PA

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