The House intelligence committee has released the whistleblower complaint that sparked a wide-reaching scandal involving Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart and spurred an impeachment inquiry into the American president.
In the complaint, dated August 12, the whistleblower said information was received from more than half a dozen US government officials that showed Mr Trump appearing to put pressure on a foreign leader for political gain by soliciting interference in the 2020 US election.
The whistleblower cited “among other things . . . pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic rivals”, and said the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was a “central figure” in the activities. US attorney-general William Barr “appears to be involved as well”, it said.
The whistleblower said they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described” in the complaint.
The whistleblower said the verbatim transcript of the July 25 call with the Ukrainian president had been stored in a special classified system to prevent the details from leaking. The whistleblower said that multiple White House officials indicated it was not the first time such a transcript had been placed in the system “solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information”, for which the system was designed.
“I learned from multiple US officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced,” the whistleblower wrote in the complaint. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
The House intelligence panel released the complaint moments before acting director of US national intelligence Joseph Maguire was due to testify before it in a televised hearing.
Adam Schiff, the Democrat who chairs the House intelligence committee, said it was a “travesty” that the whistleblower complaint was “held up for this long”, adding: “This complaint should never have been withheld from Congress.”
Mr Maguire said that White House lawyers told him he could not share the whistleblower complaint with Congress because the call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky fell under “executive privilege”, a term made famous during the Watergate hearings.
Mr Schiff first revealed the existence of the complaint earlier this month, saying that Mr Maguire had, in an unprecedented move, blocked the inspector general from sharing it with Congress.
Minutes after the complaint was published, Mr Trump said on Twitter: “THE DEMOCRATS ARE TRYING TO DESTROY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND ALL THAT IT STANDS FOR. STICK TOGETHER, PLAY THEIR GAME, AND FIGHT HARD REPUBLICANS. OUR COUNTRY IS AT STAKE!”
In his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing, Mr Schiff asked Mr Maguire why he “stood silent when an intelligence professional under your care and protection was ridiculed by the president, was accused of potentially betraying his or her country”.
Mr Schiff said the whistleblower “has shown more dedication to country, more of an understanding of the president’s oath of office than the president has ever demonstrated”.
Devin Nunes, the committee’s top Republican, accused Democrats of rolling out “their latest information warfare operation against the president”, adding: “The Democrats, their media mouthpieces, and a cabal of leakers are ginning up a fake story, with no regard to the monumental damage they’re causing to our public institutions and to trust in government, and without acknowledging all the false stories they propagated in the past.”