A complaint against President Donald Trump concerning his interactions with the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was released with few redactions. It offers a detailed look at concerns from a government official that Trump has abused his office by soliciting “interference” from a foreign country in the 2020 presidential campaign — specifically, that he asked for help digging up damaging material on a leading Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden — and that White House officials tried to cover it up. Read the latest on the complaint. Below is a line-by-line examination of the allegations.
The Honorable Richard Burr
Select Committee on Intelligence
United States Senate
The Honorable Adam Schiff
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
United States House of Representatives
Dear Chairman Burr and Chairman Schiff:
I am reporting an “urgent concern” in accordance with the procedures outlined in 50 U.S.C. §3033(k)(5)(A). This letter is UNCLASSIFIED when separated from the attachment.
The whistleblower cites the portion of US law that deals with the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community and makes clear that any “urgent concern” an intelligence community employee wants to report to Congress must first go through the inspector general.
In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. 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 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.
“I have received information” is different than witnessing information. The whistleblower appears to be reporting second-hand information. That might not matter since it is thoroughly documented, and as the White House transcript of Trump’s Ukraine phone call shows, what the whistleblower alleged, at least on that front, was true.
This raises questions that the whistleblower doesn’t address in the complaint, but which Congress could investigate: Were these other officials concerned? And if the interference described below is only one kind of solicitation — “among other things” — what else did Trump try to do?
Over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort. The information provided herein was relayed to me in the course of official interagency business. It is routine for U.S. officials with responsibility for a particular regional or functional portfolio to share such information with one another in order to inform policymaking and analysis.
The whistleblower report was filed August 12. Trump’s call with Zelensky occurred July 25. But here the whistleblower seems to be saying US officials have been discussing the effort by Trump, Giuliani and, potentially, Barr since as early as April, the same month Zelensky assumed office. Giuliani is Trump’s personal lawyer. But Barr is the top law enforcement officer in the United States. His involvement would be extremely consequential.
I was not a direct witness to most of the events described. However, I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another. In addition, a variety of information consistent with these private accounts has been reported publicly.
There has already been an effort by the White House to use this admission — that the whistleblower did not directly witness everything in the complaint — to undermine the complaint as, in Trump’s own words, “another political hack job.” That view is not shared by the DNI or the inspector general, who took the complaint seriously. The whistleblower has asked to remain anonymous.
I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute “a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order” that “does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters,” consistent with the definition of an”urgent concern” in 50 U.S.C. §3033(k)(5)(G). I am therefore fulfilling my duty to report this information, through proper legal channels, to the relevant authorities.
One of the definitions of “urgent concern” in US law is: “A serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operation of an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information, but does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters.”
This complaint, along with the related transcript of Trump’s Ukraine call released by the White House, has already led to calls for Trump’s impeachment. Remember, the Constitution says a President should be impeached not for breaking US law, but rather for committing treason, bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It’s Congress’s job to determine what those are, in what are known as articles of impeachment.
I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.
This is a good time to recall that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was about allegations that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 and that Trump then tried to shut down investigations into those claims. The final act of that investigation, Mueller’s testimony before Congress, occurred the day before Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. A President using his office to influence a foreign power to get involved in a US election would be different — and arguably much worse — than an unelected candidate asking for help.
To the best of my knowledge, the entirety of this statement is unclassified when separated from the classified enclosure. I have endeavored to apply the classification standards outlined in Executive Order (EO) 13526 and to separate out information that I know or have reason to believe is classified for national security purposes.1
This whistleblower is clearly an intelligence pro and wrote this report from the outset with an eye to public, unclassified consumption. The Mueller report went through a long redaction process by the Department of Justice and during that period, Barr released a short summary that selectively quoted the report, the result of which was that the initial public focus was on elements less damning to Trump — which has not happened in this case.
Elements of the complaint are redacted later on in the classified appendix.
Early in the morning of 25 July, the President spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I do not know which side initiated the call. This was the first publicly acknowledged call between the two leaders since a brief congratulatory call after Mr. Zelenskyy won the presidency on 21 April.
Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests. Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid. According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to, inter alia:
A White House transcript of the call was released September 25. Read it with context and analysis here.
The whistleblower apparently did not see the White House transcript of the call, but clearly it was discussed within the US government. The description of the call is generally accurate. It’s interesting that the whistleblower notes this is the first “publicly acknowledged” call since April. The implication is that Trump potentially may have had other, unacknowledged, calls.
The bigger context is this: Trump is preoccupied with Biden, and has repeatedly predicted that Biden will win the Democratic primary and be his opponent in November 2020. This is all about damaging a potential opponent, but it’s also the American President asking a foreign country to help investigate two American citizens — Biden and his son, Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
The President also praised Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Mr. Yuriy Lutsenko, and suggested that Mr. Zelenskyy might want to keep him in his position. (Note: Starting in March 2019, Mr. Lutsenko made a series of public allegations-many of which he later walked back-about the Biden family’s activities in Ukraine, Ukrainian officials’ purported involvement in the 2016 U.S. election, and the activities of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. See Part IV for additional context.)
Then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko said in May he was looking to “reanimate” an investigation of Hunter Biden’s former employer – but that apparently never happened. He also said there was no evidence of any crime by Biden. Lutsenko left office in August after the new administration of Zelensky took office.
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.
This is an important passage because it suggests unease inside the White House over Trump’s actions — but also that staffers were worried they might get in trouble as witnesses.
The Ukrainian side was the first to publicly acknowledge the phone call. On the evening of 25 July, a readout was posted on the website of the Ukrainian President that contained the following line (translation from original Russian-language readout):
Indeed, Zelensky has an official website that features English translations of all postings. A statement dated July 25 mentions the need to address corruption cases standing between countries. The White House only later acknowledged the call. The US press has often found out about Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders from the foreign governments on the other end of the calls, rather than from the White House. The most infamous instance was when Trump allowed the then-Russian ambassador and foreign minister into the Oval Office and they later released pictures on social media, and when the Kremlin issued a statement about a phone call, also in late July, between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House acknowledged it hours later.
Aside from the above-mentioned “cases” purportedly dealing with the Biden family and the 2016 U.S. election, I was told by White House officials that no other “cases” were discussed.
Based on my understanding, there were approximately a dozen White House officials who listened to the call-a mixture of policy officials and duty officers in the White House Situation Room, as is customary. The officials I spoke with told me that participation in the call had not been restricted in advance because everyone expected it would be a “routine” call with a foreign leader. I do not know whether anyone was physically present with the President during the call.
The Situation Room duty officers who prepared the rough transcript listed the location of the call as the White House residence, and it’s not clear from the transcript whether anyone was with Trump. The fact that Trump took no pains to hide the conversation from official channels suggests that he may truly not see anything wrong with asking a foreign ally to investigate a fellow American running for office as a favor, in his capacity as President.
Brechbuhl was born in Switzerland and raised in New York. He is a West Point classmate, business partner and confidant of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who appointed him to his role at the at the State Department.
In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. 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-as is customary-by the White House Situation Room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.
The whistleblower’s use of the phrase “lock down” and subsequent description is another way to say “cover up.” This explosive allegation suggests that Trump aides realized that his call was inappropriate even if Trump publicly says it was “perfect.”
I do not know whether similar measures were taken to restrict access to other records of the call, such as contemporaneous handwritten notes taken by those who listened in.
This claim will become a key element of any investigation and may dictate whether it extends to include officials beyond Trump, including current White House counsel is Pat Cipollone, who took the job last year after the departure of Don McGahn.
Any effort to conceal information using the White House electronic system should be covered under presidential records acts, but will almost certainly end up being the subject of a court battle over executive privilege.
On 26 July, a day after the call, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker visited Kyiv and met with President Zelenskyy and a variety of Ukrainian political figures. Ambassador Volker was accompanied in his meetings by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me by various U.S. officials, Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to “navigate” the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.
Volker is a key player in all of this. CNN has reported that Zelensky had joked with Volker about Giuliani in a meeting before this phone call. Volker later set up the meeting between Giuliani and a Zelensky adviser in an effort to get the Biden matter out of official talks. One person who’s not mentioned in the complaint: former national security adviser John Bolton, who was also involved in the Ukraine issue.
I also learned from multiple U.S. officials that, on or about 2 August, Mr. Giuliani reportedly traveled to Madrid to meet with one of President Zelenskyy’ s advisers, Andriy Yermak. The U.S. officials characterized this meeting, which was not reported publicly at the time, as a “direct follow-up” to the President’s call with Mr. Zelenskyy about the “cases” they had discussed.
CNN reported in August on Giuliani’s meeting with Yermak, during which Giuliani pushed for an inquiry by the Ukrainians into Biden.
On 9 August, the President told reporters: “I think [President Zelenskyy] is going to make a deal with President Putin, and he will be invited to the White House. And we look forward to seeing him. He’s already been invited to the White House, and he wants to come. And I think he will. He’s a very reasonable guy. He wants to see peace in Ukraine, and I think he will be coming very soon, actually.”
At that point, Trump had already put the brakes on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, including $250 million in military aid.
Beginning in late March 2019, a series of articles appeared in an online publication called The Hill. In these articles, several Ukrainian officials — most notably, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko — made a series of allegations against other Ukrainian officials and current and former U.S. officials. Mr. Lutsenko and his colleagues alleged, inter alia:
In several public comments,8 Mr. Lutsenko also stated that he wished to communicate directly with Attorney General Barr on these matters.9
The allegations by Mr. Lutsenko came on the eve of the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on 31 March. By that time, Mr. Lutsenko’s political patron, President Poroshenko, was trailing Mr. Zelenskyy in the polls and appeared likely to be defeated. Mr. Zelenskyy had made known his desire to replace Mr. Lutsenko as Prosecutor General. On 21 April, Mr. Poroshenko lost the runoff to Mr. Zelenskyy by a landslide. See Enclosure for additional information.
A large portion of that Fox News interview with Trump by Sean Hannity was focused on Ukraine. “We have a great new attorney general who has done an unbelievable job in a very short period of time.” Trump said of Barr. “And he is very smart and tough and I would certainly defer to him. I would imagine he would want to see this. People have been saying this whole – the concept of Ukraine, they have been talking about it actually for a long time.”
On or about 29 April, I learned from U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the situation that Ambassador Yovanovitch had been suddenly recalled to Washington by senior State Department officials for “consultations” and would most likely be removed from her position.
Read CNN’s profile of Yovanovitch, a career diplomat whose recall drew criticism from Democrats earlier this year. In his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Trump disparaged his former ambassador. “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,” Trump said — a highly unusual attack by the President on an American civil servant in a conversation with a foreign leader.
On 9 May, The New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani planned to travel to Ukraine to press the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations that would help the President in his 2020 reelection bid.
CNN reported on Giuliani’s very public plans to go to Ukraine and his subsequent decision to cancel his trip.
On 11 May, Mr. Lutsenko met for two hours with President-elect Zelenskyy, according to a public account given several days later by Mr. Lutsenko. Mr. Lutsenko publicly stated that he had told Mr. Zelenskyy that he wished to remain as Prosecutor General.
Starting in mid-May, I heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President. These officials also told me:
During this same timeframe, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to “play ball” on the issues that had been publicly aired by Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Giuliani. (Note: This was the general understanding of the state of affairs as conveyed to me by U.S. officials from late May into early July. I do not know who delivered this message to the Ukrainian leadership, or when.) See Enclosure for additional information.
CNN has reported on this point of view. One complicating factor is that Volker apparently helped set up Giuliani’s meeting with Yermak, the aide to Ukraine’s president.
Shortly after President Zelenskyy’ s inauguration, it was publicly reported that Mr. Giuliani met with two other Ukrainian officials: Ukraine’s Special Anticorruption Prosecutor, Mr. Nazar Kholodnytskyy, and a former Ukrainian diplomat named Andriy Telizhenko. Both Mr. Kholodnytskyy and Mr. Telizhenko are allies of Mr. Lutsenko and made similar allegations in the above-mentioned series of articles in The Hill.
On 13 June, the President told ABC’ s George Stephanopoulos that he would accept damaging information on his political rivals from a foreign government.
On 21 June, Mr. Giuliani tweeted: “New Pres of Ukraine still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 and alleged Biden bribery of Poroshenko. Time for leadership and investigate both if you want to purge how Ukraine was abused by Hillary and Clinton people.”
In mid-July, I learned of a sudden change of policy with respect to U.S. assistance for Ukraine. See Enclosure for additional information.
This would be Trump’s decision to hold up aid, including military aid, to Ukraine. An outcry from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill ultimately forced Trump to back down in September.
ENCLOSURE: Classified appendix
There are many indications that this report was written with an eye to keeping it from being classified. It relies very specifically on a lot of press reporting and official statements.
Here is CNN’s Fact Check of Trump’s claims, or what he seems to be claiming about the server.
Here is the OCCRP report.
Here is the Bloomberg story.
(U) Supplementary classified information is provided as follows:
According to multiple White House officials I spoke with, the transcript of the President’s call with President Zelenskyy was placed into a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council (NSC) Directorate for Intelligence Programs. This is a standalone computer system reserved for codeword-level intelligence information, such as covert action. According to information I received from White House officials, some officials voiced concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system and was not consistent with the responsibilities of the Directorate for Intelligence Programs. According to White House officials I spoke with, 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.
Unnecessarily designating something as classified has long been criticized as a government technique to keep inconvenient facts quiet. The whistleblower is suggesting there are other matters that have been handled in this way under the Trump administration. The transcript of the call with Zelensky would have stayed out of public view until after 2040 under its original classification.
I would like to expand upon two issues mentioned in Section IV that might have a connection with the overall effort to pressure the Ukrainian leadership. As I do not know definitively whether the below-mentioned decisions are connected to the broader efforts I describe, I have chosen to include them in the classified annex. If they indeed represent genuine policy deliberations and decisions formulated to advance U.S. foreign policy and national security, one might be able to make a reasonable case that the facts are classified.
The whistleblower repeatedly makes a point of separating firsthand knowledge from what he or she has been told or infers.
This gets directly to the heart of the matter: Did Zelensky understand that in order to get aid to buy his Javelins he needed to “play ball”?
The aid was unfrozen in September after an outcry on Capitol Hill.