The declassified whistle-blower complaint at the heart of the Ukraine scandal engulfing the Trump administration was released to the public on Thursday morning.
The complaint, which spans nine pages including a redacted appendix, contains a variety of disconcerting revelations that shed further light on the president’s efforts to compel Ukraine to take actions that would ostensibly serve the president’s personal political agenda at the possible expense of US national security and democratic integrity.
“I have received information from multiple US Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election”, the complaint begins. “This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main political rivals”.
Read the complaint
The compliant cites the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, details of which were released by the White House on Wednesday via a “rough transcript”.
The decision to release that account of the conversation appears to have backfired on the president to the extent it reinforced impeachment calls and proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Trump pressured a foreign government to investigate a political rival with the help of his personal attorney (Rudy Giuliani) and, potentially more worrisome, attorney general William Barr, both of whom are mentioned in the complaint.
Notably, it alleges that White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by the July call and that there was an “ongoing discussion” within the administration (including counsel) about how to deal with it “because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain”.
The complaint alleges that in the days immediately following the call, “multiple” administration officials stepped in to “lock down” all records of the conversation between Trump and Zelensky, “especially the word-for-word transcript”.
That effort, the complaint says, “underscored that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired”.
The lengths the administration is said to have gone to in order to hide the accounts of the call sound extraordinary. Officials told the whistle-blower that White House lawyers directed them to “remove the electronic transcript from the computer system” and load it into a “separate electronic system” normally reserved for “especially sensitive” material.
Some officials thought that was an abuse of protocol, according to the account.
The day after the call, the complaint says US special representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker, along with US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, went to Kyiv and “provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate'” Trump’s demands.
The complaint then details multiple subsequent instances of contact between Rudy Giuliani and Zelensky’s advisors, some of which have been detailed by the New York Times.
The complaint also describes the circumstances leading up to the July 25 call, including a series of articles that appeared in The Hill, penned by Ukrainian officials, including Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. In those articles, allegations were made against other Ukraine officials as well as current and former US officials including, of course, Joe Biden. Those articles also contained allegations related to purported “evidence” that Ukraine officials had interfered in the 2016 election in a conspiracy with the DNC and US Embassy in Kyiv. One such allegation involved a supposed coverup operation allegedly orchestrated by US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Trump appeared to deride Yovanovitch on the call transcript released on Wednesday. “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that”, the president told Zelensky, just before asking about Biden’s son.
Giuliani met with Lutsenko on at least two occasions and, during an April 25 interview with Fox, Rudy called his claims “big” and “incredible”. It was, according to Rudy, something William Barr “would want to see”.
Yovanovitch was subsequently recalled and removed. Yovanovitch’s assignment in Ukraine was terminated, the complaint says, because of Lutsenko’s allegations. The whistle-blower goes on to say that around the same time, the whistle-blower learned from US officials that Giuliani’s “associates” were attempting to make contact with the new Zelensky government.
Bear in mind as you consider all of this that Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s personal attorney. He is not a US government official. His actions in this rather sordid tale are wholly consistent with what a consigliere would do on behalf of his boss, although Rudy is no Tom Hagen, that’s for sure.
Beginning in mid-May, the complaint says multiple US officials began to express “deep concern” about Giuliani’s activities. State department officials, including Volker and Sonland, spoke to Rudy, the complaint says, as part of a damage control effort. Additionally, the two discussed with Zelensky officials how to “understand and respond” to “differing messages” from official US channels on one hand, and Giuliani, on the other.
The complaint also says that Ukraine was indeed “led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelensky would depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues aired by Lutsenko and Giuliani”. Those issues included Biden and the 2016 election allegations.
The whistle-blower then points to the infamous June 13 interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, during which Trump said he would be willing to accept damaging information about a political rival from a foreign government.
The complaint clearly suggests that Trump had Ukraine in mind when he made those remarks.
Then, there’s a reference to Giuliani’s tweets from late June. Here are those tweets:
“In mid-July, I learned of a sudden change of policy with respect to US assistance for Ukraine”, the complaint says, immediately after referencing Giuliani’s tacitly coercive June 21 social media exhortation to Zelensky.
As to whether this is all a partisan “witch hunt”, as Trump claims, the complaint begins with an assertion that the whistle-blower is “deeply concerned that the actions described… constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order’ that ‘does not include differences of opinion concerning public policy matters'”. The citations are from the relevant statute.