White House sought to bury Trump-Ukraine call: Whistleblower

AFP , Thursday 26 Sep 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a bilateral meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday (Photo: Reuters)

The White House moved to "lock down" all records of Donald Trump's phone call seeking Ukraine's interference in the 2020 US election, a whistleblower's complaint released Thursday alleges, in the latest explosive episode in the rapidly unfolding impeachment drama.

The top-secret complaint, declassified by the administration and released by Congress, caps a stunning week of revelations that have put Trump in the sharpest political and legal jeopardy of his presidency.

White House officials told the whistleblower they had likely "witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain" in the July call with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the document.

In the days that followed, "I learned from multiple US officials that senior White House officials had intervened to 'lock down' all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced," the whistleblower said.

Democrats have accused Trump of a "mafia-style shakedown" of Kiev by urging a probe into his political rival Joe Biden -- prompting the whistleblower complaint and triggering a congressional impeachment probe.

The anonymous official presented the nine-page complaint on August 12 to the inspector general of the intelligence community, a Trump appointee who found it a credible and "urgent concern" and forwarded it to the acting Director of National Intelligence.

But the DNI, Joseph Maguire, at first refused to deliver the complaint to Congress, raising concerns from Democrats that members of Trump's administration were improperly protecting the president.

With the scandal swelling, the top Democrat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accused Trump of betraying his oath of office as she announced an official impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

- 'Nothing improper' -
Trump has acknowledged that he urged Ukraine to launch an anti-corruption probe against Biden, potentially his chief rival in the 2020 presidential race, and Biden's son.

He says he exerted "no pressure" on Kiev -- a claim echoed by Zelensky -- and the president took to Twitter Thursday to attack what he called "THE GREATEST SCAM IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POLITICS."

Critics say Trump had held up $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, to be released only on condition that it investigate the Bidens.

The non-verbatim record of the call did not show Trump explicitly tying aid to Zelensky probing Biden and the White House said the complaint showed Trump did "nothing improper."

"The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats," Trump's press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

As Washington digested the latest incendiary allegations, Maguire, Trump's top intelligence official, was testified before the House Intelligence Committee about why he originally withheld the complaint from Congress.

Maguire told lawmakers that while he believed the whistleblower had "acted in good faith" and followed the law, the DNI withheld the complaint from Congress because the Trump call was subject to executive privilege.

But Democrats condemned the actions of the White House and the president as a cover-up.

"The President betrayed our country. And then he tried to cover it up," congressman Mike Quigley tweeted in comments that were echoed by other lawmakers.

Some Republicans have also voiced deep concerns over the latest revelations.

"There is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning," House Republican Will Hurd said. "We need to fully investigate all of the allegations."

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