Trump faces questions over whether intelligence whistleblower is trying to reveal 'evidence' he pressured Ukraine's president to prosecute Joe Biden's son Hunter by stopping military aid AND involved Giuliani in scheme
- Donald Trump denies he made an 'inappropriate' comment to a foreign leader in a phone call that formed the basis of a reported whistleblower complaint
- Attention has focused on a series of foreign leaders he contacted in the days around August 12 whistleblower complaint
- Commentators focused on July 25 Trump call with president of Ukraine
- Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had a tense exchange with CNN host Chris Cuomo in which he denied and then admitted asking Ukraine to look into Joe Biden
- Three congressional committees are investigating whether Trump pressured the government to probe company linked to Joe Biden's son Hunter
- Complaint claims he made a secret 'promise' that was damaging to security
- Trump called UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson early on the same day the complaint was submitted and spoke to Russia's Vladimir Putin days before
- Conversation reportedly happened by phone and the topic is not known
- Acting DNI Joseph Maguire has refused to hand over the complaint to Congress
- Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff subpoenaed the document and demands to see it
- Schiff threatened to sue, and said he didn't know if White House involved in decision
With the inspector general for the Intelligence Community refusing to reveal which foreign leader a whistleblower accuses President Trump of making a secret promise to, commentators and critics Thursday pointed to Ukraine.
Three congressional committees have previously announced a probe into whether Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani took actions in order 'to pressure the government of Ukraine to assist the President's reelection campaign.'
That fact alone raised the possibility that Ukraine could be involved, as the administration and Democrats in Congress were in tense stand off over the Trump administration's refusal to reveal a mystery claim by an intelligence whisteblower now widely reported to be about the president himself.
The Democratic-run committees asked the White House for records of the Trump's July 25th phone call with Ukrainian President Zelinksy.
That call took place days before the whistleblower filed an August 12 complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community, charging Trump made a promise to a still unidentified foreign leader.
President Donald Trump spoke to the president of Ukraine on July 25, days before a whistleblower filed a complaint about a promise he made to the head of an unidentified country
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who is a lawyer for Trump, told CNN host Chris Cuomo in a tense exchange that he did, in fact, ask Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden.
Giuliani initially denied doing so, only to reverse himself seconds later.
‘Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?’ Cuomo asked Giuliani.
‘No, actually I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton, for which there is already a court finding,’ Giuliani responded.
‘You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden and his role with the prosecutor?’ Cuomo asked.
‘The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed, dismissed the case,’ Giuliani said.
‘So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?’ Cuomo pressed.
‘Of course I did,’ Giuliani said.
The former mayor then said that while he ‘didn’t ask’ that Biden be investigated specifically, he did ask the Ukrainian government ‘to look into the allegations that related to my client, which tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery scheme.’
Giuliani alleged that the former vice president 'bribed the president of the Ukraine in order to fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son.'
Giuliani and Cuomo exchanged heated jabs, with the former mayor calling the host a 'sellout'.
He also called CNN 'corrupt' for failing to investigate Biden's alleged ties to the nephew of Whitey Bulger, the longtime Boston-area mafia figure.
Giluiani is likely referring to James Bulger, who heads Thornton Group, a Massachusetts-based consulting group.
Hunter Biden and James Bulger were among a group of well-connected Americans, including Christopher Heinz, the stepson of former Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched a private equity firm that mad a series of investments in China more than 10 years ago.
Author Peter Schweizer writes in his book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends that the firm made a deal with the state-owned Bank of China to create a $1 billion joint investment fund.
The deal took place in 2013, when Joe Biden was vice president and Kerry was secretary of state.
Hunter Biden's business dealings in China are thought by some to be one reason why Joe Biden has held a favorable view toward economic ties with the Asian power.
Giuliani also complained about the lack of coverage of the Bidens' ties to Ukraine.
When Joe Biden was vice president, his son, Hunter, held a directorship for a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings.
In 2014, Burisma’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, was being investigated for corrupt dealings involving the business.
A year later, Viktor Shokin was appointed Ukraine’s top prosecutor, thus inheriting the investigations into Burisma.
Conservatives on social media have noted in recent months that Biden threatened to withhold foreign aid from Ukraine if the government didn’t fire Shokin.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, appeared on Chris Cuomo's CNN talk show on Thursday. After first denying that he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, the former New York mayor reversed himself, saying: 'Of course I did'
Some have gone further, spreading a conspiracy theory which states that Biden had Shokin fired in order to protect his son Hunter’s business interests at Burisma.
While Biden did threaten to withhold $1billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine unless Shokin was fired, he did so with the support of other Western countries and international institutions who saw Shokin as someone who was not tough enough on corruption.
Shokin’s replacement, Yuriy Lutsenko, dropped the probe into Zlochevsky, who has denied all wrongdoing.
There is growing consensus among the Washington pundit class that the whistleblower incident is in some way connected to Ukraine.
George Conway, a Trump critic and the husband of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, retweeted several postings that pointed the finger at Ukraine.
One was a tweet by longtime Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Jackson Diehl, who wrote Thursday: 'Here again is the Washpost editorial on how Trump tried to coerce Ukraine's president into investigating Joe Biden by withholding military aid.'
It was a reference to the administration holding up $250 million in congressionally appropriated funds for the country, which has tense relations with Russia.
The BBC's Kiev correspondent Jonah Fisher tweeted: 'Is Ukraine’s neophyte President about to be sucked into US politics? Could the Trump-Zelensky call be the one which lead to the US whistleblower complaint?'
Giuliani wants Ukraine to investigate the former vice president's alleged role in a Ukrainian investigation into a gas company in which his son, Hunter, held a directorship. Joe Biden (right) and Hunter Biden (left) are seen above in Washington, DC in April 2016
In 2014, Viktor Shokin (left), Ukraine's top prosecutor, investigated the owner of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden held a directorship. Joe Biden led international efforts to have Shokin fired. He was replaced by Yuriy Lutsenko (right), who dropped the investigation into Burisma's owner
None of the commentators said they had unearthed evidence that the whistleblower's complaint dealt with Ukraine.
Conway also posted an online poll: 'Given all of the dumb and nutty and inappropriate things @realDonaldTrump has said to the world on television and Twitter, is he dumb and nuts enough to say something inappropriate on a secure line with a foreign leader?'
He also retweeted longtime correspondent Laura Rozen, who referenced the Independent's report on Ukraine, and that panel chairs want to scrutinize the Trump-Ukraine phone call.
'If this actually happened, @realDonaldTrump should be impeached and removed from office without delay,' Conway wrote.
Conway's post drew a response from former National Security Council staffer and CNN commentator Samantha Vinograd. 'Trump has recently put a hold on $250B in security assistance for Ukraine,' she wrote.
HOW TRUMP'S CALL TO UKRAINE PRESIDENT COULD MATCH UP WITH WHISTLE-BLOWER'S COMPLAINT
What we know about the call: The call was made on July 25.
What we know about the complaint: The complaint was registered on August 12
The call was to a 'world leader.'
The call was to the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky
It cannot be ruled out that the complaint concerns President Trump
The call was made by President Trump
The complaint was about a 'series of actions' not just the call
A series of known actions surround the call.
Two days after the call, Kurt Volker, the State Department's special envoy for peace between Ukraine and Russian visited Kiev and met Zelensky.
The following day, it was revealed by Politico that the Trump administration had put a package of military aid to Ukraine on hold.
At the start of August, the State Department, specifically Volker, facilitated a meeting in Madrid between Rudi Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and Andriy Yermak, an ally of Zelensky. Giuliani tweeted from Santa Cruz del Retamar, 40 miles from Madrid, on August 3.
Giuliani acknowledged later that month that he had told Yermak the country's government should look into claims of corruption by Hunter Biden and attempts by Hillary Clinton's campaign to find dirt on Trump in 2016. He told the New York Times he had 'strongly urged' Yermak, 'just investigate the darn things.' He claimed he was acting as a private citizen, despite the State Department eventually saying it had facilitated the meeting.
The complaint may not concern 'members of the intelligence community.'
The president is not considered a member of the intelligence community. Vokler works for the State Department; Giuliani is a private citizen.
The complaint may not concern an 'intelligence activity' according to the Director of National Intelligence's office
A call between the president and the foreign leader is not 'an intelligence acitivty.' The actions of other government officials - the State Department - and private U.S. citizens - Giuliani - may not be an 'intelligence activity' either because they are not members of the intelligence community
The complaint is covered by 'privilege,' and 'confidentiality' according to the DNI's office
The very first assertion of executive privilege - by George Washington - was over talks with foreign governments, so Trump would be following a precedent that goes back to the Founding Fathers by saying talking to a foreign leader is privileged. His dealings with Giuliani as his attorney would be subject to attorney-client privilege
The Director of National Intelligence's office has declined to rule out that the complaint is about an area already being investigated
The House Intelligence Committee announced an investigation into the call and Trump's actions in Ukraine on September 9, to be held jointly with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees
Washington Post longtime political reporter Karen Tumulty retweeted a Post op-ed titled: 'Trump tries to force Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election.'
Washington lawyer and blogger Susan Simpson wrote: 'I know there's a lot of plausible speculation that the whistleblower's complaint relates to Trump's July 31st call with [Vladimir] Putin, but after reading the IG's letter, I'm more concerned about Trump's July 25th call with Ukraine's President Zelensky.'
That prompted former Obama CIA and National Security Council Spokesman Ned Price to write: 'The New York Times' new datapoint--that this pertains to a series of events--makes this scenario seem pretty compelling. Regardless, it's striking that Trump took part in two calls within a week of one another that, to the naked eye, look suspicious.'
Democrats are investigating whether Trump pushed Ukraine to probe Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani announced his intention to go to Ukraine this year to push the issue
The paper reported that the whistleblower's claim involved 'multiple acts going beyond a single pledge to a world leader' – a potentially key piece of information about what country it refers to.
That would seem to hold up in the case of Ukraine, given a series of contacts about the issue in recent months.
Ukraine's president pushed back against reports that Trump held back the military funds while demanding a probe that could help his presidential campaign.
'Now we can say we have very good relations with the US because now we will get not only $250 million but [an additional] $140 million,' he said, the Independent reported. 'When you are waiting for $250 million have the possibility to get $390 million, I like this sort of relationship,' Zelensky said. 'I am sure we will have a meeting in the White House, because I was invited,' he added.
The focus on Ukraine – a country whose politics already featured in the 2016 elections due to jailed Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's work on behalf of a Ukrainian oligarch – came amid a furor over the whistleblower story.
The Director of National Intelligence on Thursday refused to provide details to Congress on a whistleblower's 'urgent' claim about a secret promise President Trump reportedly made a foreign leader, lawmakers said.
The IG took the position, which Democrats cast as stonewalling, after consulting with White House and top Justice Department lawyers, it was reported Thursday.
Facing the roadblock, House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California threatened Thursday to sue the administration.
The standoff escalated by the hour Thursday, culminating in reports that the president's allege actions that prompted the whistleblower to come forward involved multiple steps beyond a single country's leader.
Schiff, a favorite Trump target, told reporters the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has made the 'unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress,' despite whistleblower laws requiring reporting to Congress of legitimate complaints.
'The whole point of the whistleblower statute is not only to encourage those to report problems, abuses, violations of laws, but also to have a legal mechanism to do so and not to disclose classified information — because there's no other remedy,' Schiff said after lawmakers grilled the IG for the intelligence community in private.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) blasted the Director of National Intelligence's decision not to share a whistleblower complaint reported to involve President Donald Trump despite statutes that mandate reporting to Congress
The decision to hold back the information from Congress came after the White House weighed in, CNN reported.
The White House Counsel and the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel were both involved in the decision and vetted it with the Director of National Intelligence, according to the report.
It was not immediately clear if the White House lawyers told the DNI to assert a privilege and hold back the information. In other Democratic congressional investigations, White House and Justice Department lawyers have had administration officials assert an 'absolute immunity' from having to testify.
Schiff's complaints came after the IG, Michael Atkinson, who he has previously said called the matter 'urgent,' declined to confirm to lawmakers public reports about the whistleblower's complaint.
Pressed by lawmakers, he told them he could not confirm the whistleblower's stunning complaint about the president.
The New York Times reported that Atkinson did allow that the complaint involved multiple acts going beyond a single pledge to a world leader.
The DNI's office wrote lawmakers that the whistleblower complaint 'involves confidential and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.'
Schiff blasted the push-back and threatened to sue. 'There is no privilege that covers whether the White House is involved in trying to stifle a whistleblower complaint,' he said.
His complaint followed closed meetings with the IG.
The IG wrote Schiff Sept. 9, explaining that he determined the complaint met the definition of an 'urgent concern.' But he also revealed a split with the DNI, who was not transmitting the information to Congress. The Acting DNI's decision 'does not appear to be consistent with past practice,' he wrote.
Amid the lack of hard public information, speculation swirled around which leader the president might have made a promise to. Immediate speculation focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Trump spoke to by phone in a call where a brief White House readout said they discussed Siberian forest fires.
President Trump on Thursday denied making an 'inappropriate' comment to a foreign leader in a phone call that formed the basis of a reported whistleblower complaint – saying he would know better than to blurt out something inappropriate when others were on the line.
Trump said in tweets that only 'dumb' people believe the version of events that appeared in the Washington Post and chalked the complaint up to 'harassment.'
'Another Fake News story out there - It never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!' he said.
'Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!'
HOW THE TRUMP 'WHISTLEBLOWER' SCANDAL UNFOLDED
August 12: The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, receives a complaint from a 'member of the intelligence community' – someone working for one of 17 agencies which include the CIA and FBI, but not the White House or Congress. At the time, Donald Trump is on vacation at his New Jersey golf club
August 15: Dan Coats serves his final day as Director of National Intelligence, and is replaced by in an acting capacity by Joseph Maguire
August 26: Atkinson transmits the complaint to Maguire, which he has to do by law if he has found it 'urgent' and 'credible'
September 2 (Labor Day): Legal deadline for Maguire to transmit the complaint to Congress expires
September 9: Inspector General writes to the House and Senate Intelligence committees telling them that he has received a complaint from a member of the intelligence community – but not what it is
September 10: House Intel Committee chair Adam Schiff writes to Maguire demanding information on the complaint
September 13: Maguire writes unclassified letter to the intel committees' chairs and ranking members saying the complaint does not need to be disclosed because it did not 'concern allegations of conduct by a member of the Intelligence Community or involve an intelligence activity under the DNI's supervision.' He also says that the DNI 'lacks unilateral authority' to allow the complaint to go to Congress
September 13, evening: Schiff issues a subpoena to Maguire demanding he testify to the House Intelligence Committee. He writes to Maguire and says that the DNI's office has refused to rule out that it involves Trump, and that it is about an 'area of active investigation by the committee.'
September 17: Maguire's general counsel writes to Schiff and tells him two key things. The first is that the complaint 'concerned conduct by someone outside the Intelligence Community and did not relate to any intelligence activity under the DNI's supervision.' That means the DNI is saying it isn't a matter for the inspector general at all. The second is that it 'involves confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the Executive Branch.' And he says that the conclusion was reached after consultation with the Department of Justice, which is led by Attorney General Bill Barr.
September 17: Atkinson writes to Schiff saying he and Maguire are 'at an impasse' over the complaint. Calling the complaint 'credible' and 'urgent,' he says the IG's view is that it does concern 'an intelligence activity' inside his remit - but that the DNI's decision that it does not binds his hands. He says he has asked to be allowed to tell Congress 'the basic subject matter' of the complaint but been told not to. He says he fears that the whistleblower could be at risk of reprisals but not be protected
September 18, daytime: Schiff writes to Maguire, saying he will accept his testimony on September 26
September 18, 9p.m.: The Washington Post says the complaint involves 'Trump's communications with a foreign leader.'
September 19, 9a.m.: Atkinson meets the House Intel committee behind closed doors. He tells them that the complaint is definitely within his jurisdiction but not what it is
September 19, 10.47a.m.: Trump tweets a denial of wrongdoing, saying: '…is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!'
September 19, 3p.m.: The New York Times reports the complaint involves 'a series of actions that goes beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader.'
President Donald Trump denied Thursday that he made an 'inappropriate' comment to a foreign leader in a phone call that formed the basis of a reported whistleblower complaint
Schiff told reporters the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, has made the 'unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress.' The New York Times reported that Atkinson did allow that the complaint involved multiple acts going beyond a single pledge to a world leader
One of the paper's sources said Trump made a 'promise' so egregious that it prompted a submission to the intelligence community's inspector general.
Two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told the Washington Post about the episode.
One of the officials said the promise was made in a phone call. The name of the foreign leader and the subject of the discussion is unknown. Trump is known to have been in contact with more than a half dozen foreign leaders at the time of the August 12 complaint, though.
World Leaders Trump talked to around the time of whistleblower's 'promise' claim
Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
French President Emmanuel Macron
Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sis of Egypt
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (exchanged letters)
Trump was vacationing at his Bedminister, N.J. golf club at the time. He spoke to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that morning and on two other occasions in the days prior.
The U.S. president also had calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the preceding weeks.
A White House readout of Trump's call with Putin said they discussed the wildfires in Siberia and trade. But a Kremlin statement suggested they spoke about those topics and normalizing relations between the two nations.
Trump had a July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
Three House Democratic committee chairman, including Schiff, are probing alleged 'attempts to manipulate the Ukrainian justice system to benefit the President's re-election campaign and target a possible political opponent,' and have sought records and transcripts of the call, as well as interactions between Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Ukrainian government.
Ned Price, a former CIA operative and National Security Council spokesman for Barack Obama, pointed to the discrepancy and guessed in a Tuesday evening tweet that the Putin call inspired the unknown whistleblower to come forward.
The president also met with the Emir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte just before the whistleblower complaint and exchanged letters with North Korean chairman Kim Jong un.
The scuffle has further implications beyond who Trump spoke to and what he said: the director of national intelligence's office did not disclose the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Disclosure of such complaints is mandatory.
The whistleblower complaint was first submitted on August 12 to Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) Michael Atkinson, says House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
Last week, Schiff, a California Democrat, accused acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire of improperly withholding the information.
Federal law directs the DNI to transmit a whistleblower complaint to the Congressional intelligence committees within seven days if it is deemed 'an urgent concern' by the ICIG.
However, Schiff says Maguire failed to transmit the complaint to Congress by September 2 as the law requires.
On August 26, the ICIG deemed the complaint 'not only credible, but urgent' and forwarded it to DNI Maguire, yet it never made its way to Congress, Schiff says.
Rep. Adam Schiff (left) has accused acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire (right) of improperly withholding a whistleblower complaint from Congress
In a September 10 letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Schiff demanded the document, and implied that it was being concealed at the direction of the White House to avoid making administration officials look bad.
'The Committee's recent experience has heightened concern of improper White House efforts to influence your office and the Intelligence Community,' Schiff wrote.
But Maguire refused, saying that the complaint involves confidential and potentially privileged communications, Schiff said.
Schiff said that Maguire further argued that the complaint was about someone who was not within the intelligence community, and that the whistleblower statute thus did not apply.
On September 13, Schiff issued a subpoena demanding a copy of the complaint, giving a September 17 deadline.
Maguire refused to respond to the subpoena, triggering Schiff to call a hearing on the matter for Thursday.
Schiff says the committee will 'do everything necessary' to get the complaint.
'The ICIG determined that this complaint is both credible and urgent, and that it should be transmitted to Congress under the clear letter of the law. The Committee places the highest importance on the protection of whistleblowers and their complaints to Congress,' Schiff said in a statement on Wednesday.