House Intel Releases Whistleblower Complaint At Center Of Impeachment Inquiry
NOEL KING, HOST:
The House intelligence committee has released the whistleblower complaint that's at the center of an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Now, today the House and Senate will hear from the acting director of national intelligence about the handling of this complaint. This is a breaking story. And NPR national security reporter Greg Myre is in studio to help us suss it out. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: OK. So should - we should start by saying that there is no name on this document. But our understanding is this is the complaint from the whistleblower that we've been waiting on.
MYRE: That's our understanding right at this moment. Yes.
KING: OK. So what is in this complaint that is new that we don't know yet?
MYRE: Well, I think yesterday the focus was on the one phone call, the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy of Ukraine. This paints a much broader picture of actions that were going on for months leading up to that. In particular, the complaint notes - from the whistleblower - that the transcript, the rough transcript of this call was placed in sort of a special computer system used by the National Security Council that was sort of very highly secretive and used for things like covert action.
So there was a sense that this phone call was highly unusual and wouldn't be distributed as widely as it should be when - and according to the whistleblower - there was not a urgent national security concern here, that it was the content of the call that was making this transcript be handled in a very special and secretive way. So I think that is certainly one of the big points.
KING: OK. So that call, some people wanted to keep it secret - the contents of that call. In this complaint, there appears to be some more detail about President Trump's interactions with the Ukrainian president as well. What can you tell us about that? What's new there?
MYRE: Right. So Zelenskiy won election in April. And he was going to be inaugurated in May. And while this is going on, Rudy Giuliani is having contacts at multiple levels with Ukrainian officials. And so this is of course of - why is the president's private lawyer dealing with this instead of the State Department...
MYRE: ...As might be normally expected. And when Zelenskiy was going to be inaugurated on May 20, Vice President Mike Pence was pulled from going to the ceremony. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was sent. And the whistleblower says it appeared that the president was waiting to see if Zelenskiy was going to sort of play ball on this investigation of the Bidens before the president, President Trump, would have a phone call or a meeting with the Ukrainian president. So it seems like he was really predicating the relationship on how Zelenskiy would act here.
KING: Lastly and quickly, the aid to Ukraine that was delayed and the reasons behind its delay, do we know anything new about that? Was President Trump delaying that while he waited for Ukraine to give him something he wanted? Do we know that?
MYRE: Well, we - again, in the complaint, it says that on July 18, the Office of Management and Budget noted that the aid was going to be delayed. And this is hugely important for Ukraine. This is a popular thing. Republicans, Democrats, the Pentagon were all supportive of this aid. And sort of mysteriously, it gets stopped. And the concern is why? And the whistleblower is saying, well, it's because the president wanted an investigation.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Greg Myre, stay with us. And we'll bring NPR congressional reporter Tim Mak into the mix here. We've all been reading this document in real time in the last few minutes. And I want to go through a couple of other points and invite your thoughts about them, gentlemen. There is a section of this document - I guess we should say it's a lengthy memo. It appears that the whistleblower acted almost as a reporter or an investigator, spoke with numerous other people in the government about this or informally ran into them and then passes on what he or she learned.
So some of this we would have to categorize as hearsay that would have to be sussed out in some kind of investigation or testimony. But it is one person's account. And there's a section here, Tim Mak - Section II, efforts to restrict access to records related to the call. What happened there? And what does it suggest, according to the whistleblower?
TIM MAK, BYLINE: So the whistleblower says that the transcript, this much-talked-about transcript of the president's call with the president of Ukraine, was put into a computer system that's typically reserved for really highly sensitive, code-word level intelligence information such as covert action. And some officials in and around the White House voiced concerns internally that that would be an abuse of the system, that they were using this system normally meant for intelligence purposes to hide a politically sensitive call transcript.
And what's even more interesting is that buried in the appendix of this whistleblower complaint is this notion that, according to White House officials who have talked to the whistleblower, this is not the first time in the administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code-word level system, this highly sensitive system...
MAK: ...Specifically for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive information.
INSKEEP: So they may have even had a system. And that's the kind of footnote that is going to invite further congressional investigation, we can assume that. There is another section here that speaks, as the thing about hiding the transcript does, to concern by people around the president that he seems to have done something inappropriate. That, at least, is the whistleblower's characterization of things.
Section III here in this lengthy memo is headlined ongoing concerns, and it describes something remarkable that happened in Ukraine. The day after the president of the United States called the president of Ukraine, some diplomats come around visiting. What did they say?
MAK: Well, it's really interesting. The whistleblower says that there were American diplomats meeting with a variety of Ukrainian political figures and that there was a - there's an amount - a certain amount of back-and-forth that involves Rudy Giuliani and conversations that were perhaps not above board.
INSKEEP: There's a particular word that is put in quotes here. And again, this whistleblower, we don't know precisely what their source is except that they say they were hearing from multiple people in the government. But the whistleblower says, on 26 July, some diplomats go, and they meet with President Zelenskiy, the president of Ukraine who had just taken this call, and a variety of Ukrainian political figures.
And it says that the U.S. diplomats reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to, quote, "navigate" the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelenskiy, a remarkable suggestion there that U.S. diplomats were trying to figure out, for the Ukrainian officials, some appropriate way that they could handle an inappropriate demand by their own boss. Is that how you read that, Greg Myre?
MYRE: Yes. I mean, you could - we would certainly want to know more. But, yes, how should they deal with this request by the president? Should they produce, you know, something - give him something? Or should they, perhaps, play it down or ignore it? We don't know because it just uses the word navigate. But it - the whistleblower clearly thinks this is highly unusual and inappropriate.
INSKEEP: And, Tim Mak, take us to the next paragraph of this memo in ongoing concerns because there's then a meeting described involving Rudolph Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. What's going on there?
MAK: Well, it appears that Rudy Giuliani, according to the whistleblower, followed up with the president's call with the president of Ukraine just like the transcript of that call suggests, that Mr. Giuliani had reportedly privately reached out to a number of Ukrainian officials in order to kind of push forward some of the requests made in the president's call with the president of Ukraine.
INSKEEP: So we have follow-up calls on the president's direct request, at least by Rudolph Giuliani. I guess we should note at this point William Barr, the attorney general of the United States, has insisted that he wasn't involved in this, even though President Trump also said to the president of Ukraine, talk to Rudy. Talk to my lawyer. Also talk to William Barr, in effect, my other lawyer. And William Barr, we don't know from this memo that Barr acted in any way, do we? Silence.
INSKEEP: So I don't think either of us have - any of us have read enough to know this...
MYRE: No - well, no. We sort of know Barr seems to be somewhere stuck in the middle, where his Justice Department is evaluating this complaint in August, the whistleblower complaint. They were ruling - they decided a couple things - that it didn't necessarily need to be passed on to Congress, that they weren't going to open a criminal investigation. So his Justice Department, on the one hand, is looking into this whistleblower complaint. And on the other hand, you have the president telling the Ukrainian leader that, oh, you may get a call from William Barr. Barr is sort of here in the middle saying, I don't know about this.
INSKEEP: So let's try to sum this up a little bit if we can because all of us yesterday, along with a good part of the country, I would imagine, read the five-page notes of the president's conversation with the president of Ukraine. We absorbed all that information - that the president said, I would like - we would like to ask you a favor, and the president asked for an investigation of a conspiracy theory and asked for dirt on Joe Biden and his family. We know all that from the White House's own transcript.
Now we have this additional account of the whistleblower putting some of the context around that. Let me ask you both, Tim Mak and Greg Myre, what more do you feel you've learned having had a few minutes to read these documents?
MAK: Well, I think the - two points that are really interesting. Firstly, this idea that the whistleblower suggests that there is - there are additional presidential transcripts placed in this secret system to hide these transcripts from other officials in the government, that's going to carry a lot of news in the days ahead.
And secondly, what's interesting to me is the whistleblower does not seem to think that he or she is alone and says that there are other White House officials that are, quote, unquote, "deeply disturbed" by that July phone call with the president of Ukraine because they had, quote, "witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain."
INSKEEP: Greg Myre.
MYRE: Right. So he's saying there are other people that witnessed this. I'm not alone. Also, we're looking at this, obviously, from the American angle. Think about it from the Ukrainian angle for one moment. You're the new president of Ukraine. You're not a politician. You've just come in. You've had Russian forces annexing Crimea in eastern Ukraine. You've got a big problem.
You're - the most help you can get is from the United States. You want to talk about military aid. And the president is saying, hey, you're going to get a call from Rudy Giuliani and Bill Barr.
(SOUNDBITE OF TAKUYA KURODA'S "RISING SON")
INSKEEP: OK. So we've been reading. We're going to keep reading the whistleblower complaint, which is now public and is part of a massive controversy involving a phone call and much more. Greg Myre and Tim Mak on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.