| September 28, 2019 12: 00 AM
An intelligence community whistleblower complaint centered upon a July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was released on Thursday, setting off a political firestorm in Washington, D.C., as Democrats pursue impeachment.
The nine-page complaint, released the day after the transcript of the call was made public, shows Trump asked for Ukraine’s help in investigating a conspiracy theory related to the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to look into whether there was any Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election and suggested that the Ukrainians investigate allegations of corruption related to 2020 Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
The unnamed whistleblower provided the complaint in August to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who determined that the complaint was of an “urgent concern” and “appeared credible,” although acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire consulted with the Justice Department and determined the complaint fell outside the statutory requirements which would compel him to hand it over to Congress. Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that had been delayed by the Trump administration were released to Ukraine earlier in September.
The cast of characters in the Trump-Giuliani-Ukraine saga laid out in the whistleblower complaint is extensive, with more than 20 individuals named.
The Whistleblower and Unnamed U.S. Officials
The identity of the intelligence community whistleblower is still secret, although the New York Times reported Thursday that the person was a “CIA officer detailed to the White House at one point.” Trump has referred to the individual as a “so-called” whistleblower and likened the person to a “spy,” but Maguire testified that the whistleblower “acted in good faith” and “followed the law.” The whistleblower has admitted not being “a direct witness to most of the events described” but cited “U.S. officials” and “White House officials” with direct knowledge of the events, including the Trump-Zelensky phone call. The actions of Giuliani and others, and some of what the complaint describes, has since been corroborated, though some is disputed.
Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Adam Schiff
The Aug. 12 complaint reviewed by Atkinson was addressed to the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Democratic head of the House Intelligence Committee, although it wasn’t provided to them until this week. Schiff was adamant that the complaint be handed over to Congress, and he drew the ire of Trump and Republicans when he provided an exaggerated “parody” recounting of the Trump-Zelensky conversation during a Thursday hearing with Maguire. Republicans have alleged Schiff received the complaint in August, but there is currently no evidence of this.
The whistleblower cites White House officials who say that Trump “pressured” Zelensky to do three main things: investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden, assist in uncovering allegations that claims of Russian interference in 2016 originated in Ukraine and that Ukraine hand over Democratic National Committee servers allegedly in the possession of CrowdStrike, and speak with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr about these things. The declassified July 25 call transcript shows Trump suggested all three to Zelensky.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
The whistleblower doesn’t provide much detail on how Zelensky responded to Trump’s entreaties. The Ukrainian president was elected in a landslide in April against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and his party won parliamentary elections in July days before the call in question. The call transcript shows Zelensky thanked Trump for his congratulations, expressed an interest in purchasing anti-tank missiles known as Javelins, noted his assistant had spoken with Giuliani in recent days, and said he was willing to “cooperate” on the “investigations” Trump had raised. Following the release of the call transcript, Zelensky said “nobody pushed me” to investigate anything.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani
The whistleblower wrote that Giuliani is a “central figure” in Trump’s alleged efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his possible presidential rival, Joe Biden, during the 2020 elections, and the whistleblower said U.S. officials were “deeply concerned” by Giuliani’s “circumvention of the national security decision-making process.” Trump asked Zelensky to speak about his investigative requests. For months, Giuliani has been publicly calling upon Ukraine to investigate issues related to 2016 as well as to investigate the Bidens, including contacting and meeting with Ukrainian officials both before and after this call. The whistleblower alleged that State Department officials had spoken with Giuliani to “contain the damage”, but Giuliani has called this “nonsense” and says he has over a dozen text messages from State Department officials showing they were encouraging him to carry out his Ukraine efforts.
U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland
The whistleblower said they were told that State Department officials, including Volker and Sondland, spoke with Giuliani “in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security.” The whistleblower said those ambassadors “met with members of the new Ukrainian administration and, in addition to discussing policy matters, sought to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channel on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other.” During a trip by Volker and Sondland to Ukraine the day after the July 25 call, the whistleblower said the ambassadors tried to advise Ukrainian leadership “about how to ‘navigate’ the demands” Trump made of Zelensky. Since the release of the call and the complaint, the State Department has tried to distance itself from Giuliani, but he claims the State Department gave him the green light to carry out his mission in Ukraine and that he was briefing Volker and Sondland on what he was doing.
Volker met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday and informed him that he was resigning from his post following Giuliani’s televised criticism after Democrats announced they’d scheduled him to be deposed on Oct. 3 and Sondland to be deposed on Oct. 10.
Zelenksy adviser Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan, and acting Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov
The whistleblower said “multiple U.S. officials” told them about an Aug. 2 trip by Giuliani to Madrid to meet with Yermak in person, characterizing the meeting as a “direct follow-up” to the Trump-Zelensky call about the “cases” they’d discussed. Giuliani disputed this on Thursday, saying the meeting was already in the works before that call. Giuliani spoke with Yermak prior to July 25, and that call is mentioned by Zelensky to Trump. Giuliani says Volker put him “in direct contact” with Yermak, and that Yermak indicated Ukraine was open to pursuing these investigations. The whistleblower also said Giuliani also reached out to Bohdan and Bakanov, among others.
Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and Viktor Shokin
During the Trump-Zelensky call, Zelensky mentioned that Giuliani has been in contact with one of his aides. Trump suggested that Ukraine should investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a company, Burisma Holdings, owned by Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky may have been under investigation in Ukraine. Biden boasted in 2018 that, as vice president, he threatened in 2016 to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees if Ukraine didn’t fire Viktor Shokin, which Trump’s allies have said was because of the investigation, but Democrats and others have said was part of a U.S. and European effort to oust Shokin as ineffective and a hindrance to Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts. Ukraine removed Shokin in 2016, and he has since claimed he’d planned on questioning Hunter Biden. Trump referred to investigating the Bidens as “the other thing” and he told Zelensky “a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
Attorney General William Barr
The whistleblower wrote that Barr “appears to be involved” in these Ukrainian investigation efforts too, and the call transcript shows that Trump asked Zelensky to speak with Barr in addition to Giuliani, but the Justice Department has denied Barr’s participation. DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said that Trump hasn’t spoken with Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son” and that Trump “has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter.” Kupec also said Barr had neither communicated with Ukraine at all nor had Barr discussed anything related to Ukraine with Giuliani. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi alleged that Barr has “gone rogue.”
U.S. Attorney John Durham
The whistleblower also quoted Giuliani’s August comments on Fox News that Durham was “spending a lot of time in Europe” because he was “investigating Ukraine,” with the whistleblower noting that “I do not know” to what extent, if any, Durham or Barr is working with Giuliani. In response, DOJ revealed that Durham, picked by Barr to look into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, is investigating whether Ukraine was involved in any 2016 election efforts. And Kupec said “certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government” have provided Durham with information to evaluate.” DOJ has not said whether Durham has spoken with Giuliani.
Unnamed Senior White House Officials and Lawyers
The whistleblower claimed they were told that “senior White House officials” and “White House lawyers” intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced”, with the sources saying it was a possible “abuse” of the system to protect “politically sensitive” rather than “national security sensitive” information this way. A classified appendix to the complaint stated the transcript was placed into a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council Directorate for Intelligence Programs. Since that revelation, the White House has defended the handling of the transcript, stating that “NSC lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately.”
State Department counsel T. Ulrich Brechbuhl
The whistleblower wrote that, in addition to “approximately a dozen White House officials” listening in on the Trump-Zelensky call in the Situation Room, Brechbuhl “also listened in on the call,” but a senior government official denied that Brechbuhl was on the call on Thursday.
Democrats scheduled Brechbuhl to be deposed on Oct 8.
The whistleblower mentioned CrowdStrike, which Trump directly referred to in a “favor” from Zelensky in the call immediately after Zelensky brought up purchasing military weaponry, with Trump asking him to look into the cybersecurity company’s conclusion that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016, telling him that “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it.” Trump’s belief that a Ukrainian owns the California company, that the DNC’s server might be in Ukraine, and that CrowdStrike may have falsified its conclusions is related to a long-standing conspiracy theory. The DOJ said it is “incorrect” that they relied solely on CrowdStrike’s assessment, stating that the indictment of Russian military officers in 2018 was based upon information obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Ukrainian Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s Special Anticorruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky, and former Ukrainian diplomat Adnriy Telizhenko
The call transcript shows Trump refer to a “prosecutor who was very good” and, although not mentioned by name, it is likely Trump was referring Shokin’s successor, Lutsenko. Trump said that “he was shut down and that’s really unfair” and that “a lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down, and you had some very bad people involved.” The whistleblower said that Giuliani reportedly met with Lutsenko in January and February and that Giuliani also met with Lutsenko allies Kholodnytsky and Telizhenko, too. In March, Lutsenko and his allies began making a series of allegations that certain Ukrainian officials had “interfered” in the 2016 election, allegedly in collaboration with the DNC and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and that Biden had pressured Poroshenko to fire Shokin to stop a probe of Burisma. The whistleblower claimed Trump suggested that Zelensky might want to keep Lutsenko on in that role, but that is not clear from the actual transcript. Zelensky told Trump that “the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person,” and Lutsenko was replaced by Ruslan Riaboshapka. Lutsenko said in May that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden and said this week that Hunter Biden “did not violate” any laws.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch
Yovanovitch, mentioned by the whistleblower, served as an ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush and ambassador to Ukraine under Obama, and became a target of Giuliani and others. Lutsenko claimed this year that Yovanovitch had helped Clinton and hurt Trump in 2016, and also claimed she “gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute”, which the State Department called “an outright fabrication.” Lutsenko backed away from this claim in April. But these criticisms made their way to Trump, who recalled Yovanovitch in May and brought her up with Zelensky in July, telling him that “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.”
Democrats scheduled Yovanovitch to be deposed on Oct. 2.
Head of National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk and Member of Parliament Serhiy Leshchenko
The whistleblower said that Lutsenko targeted Sytnyk and Leschenko too, whom the whistleblower described as two of Lutsenko’s “biggest domestic rivals.” Lutsenko alleged the two were part of a plot to interfere in 2016 to hurt Trump and help Clinton. Giuliani has harshly criticized Leshchenko for going after Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Leschenko revealed in August 2016 a “black ledger” purportedly showing secretive payments from pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to Manafort, though Leshchenko denies he was trying to help Clinton.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry
The whistleblower also alleged that U.S. officials told him that Trump canceled Vice President Mike Pence’s May trip to Ukraine to attend Zelensky’s inauguration, sending Energy Secretary Rick Perry instead, claiming it was “made clear” to these officials that Trump didn’t want to meet with Zelensky “until he saw how Zelensky ‘chose to act’ in office.” The whistleblower said they didn’t know whether this was connected to the “broader understanding” that a meeting or call between Trump and Zelensky would depend on Zelensky’s willingness to “play ball” on the issues raised by Lutsenko and Giuliani.