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Sunday 20 October 2019

'It's a cover up' - Trump on back-foot as record of whistleblower released

Top aides 'tried to lock down' all records of controversial conversation

US President Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Donald Trump (Evan Vucci/AP)

Ben Riley-Smith

The White House tried to "lock down" all records of a phone call in which Donald Trump urged the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden, according to an explosive whistle-blower complaint published yesterday.

It was claimed that White House lawyers "directed" the removal of a transcript of the call from the computer system it would normally be held on, with the document instead being stored alongside classified material.

That was the most eye-catching allegation in a complaint from an unnamed whistleblower that the Trump administration has held back from Congress for weeks, helping fuel the Ukrainian scandal which has now engulfed the US presidency.

Democrats jumped on the revelations in the nine-page complaint, which was finally published yesterday.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, declared in a press conference: "This is a cover-up."

But Mr Trump and his allies escalated attempts to dismiss the controversy and call into question the motives of the whistleblower. Mr Trump called what the Democrats were doing a "disgrace".

Last night, 'The New York Times' reported that the whistle-blower was a male CIA officer who was once detailed to work at the White House.

A recording also emerged of Mr Trump saying at a closed-door meeting he wanted to find out who gave information to the whistleblower, adding: "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right?"

The complaint, lodged on August 12, has been at the centre of the growing Ukrainian scandal that has eventually led to the Democrats launching impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump - only the fourth US president in history to face such an inquiry.

For weeks, the Trump administration has refused to give the complaint to Congress, despite an internal watchdog judging it be of "urgent concern". Yesterday, it was finally published.

The whistleblower wrote: "In the course of my official duties, I received information from multiple US government officials that the president of the US is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election."

Read more: Whistleblower alleges Trump sought foreign meddling in 2020 election

The complaint alleged that Mr Trump pressured a foreign country to investigate a main domestic political rival - a reference to Mr Biden, the former US vice-president who is seeking election to the White House in 2020.

A transcript of a July 25 call between Mr Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, released on Wednesday showed the US president urged his counterpart to "look into" Mr Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who once worked for a Ukrainian gas company. The Bidens have always denied wrongdoing.

The complaint claimed that senior White House officials attempted to "lock down" records of that call, in particular a "word-for-word" transcript.

A transcript was allegedly removed from a computer system where such notes are normally stored ahead of circulation to all Cabinet-level officials.

Instead, it was then placed on a system for "code word-level intelligence information", despite the contents not being national security sensitive, according to the complaint. A string of other claims were made. The complaint said that in July, Mr Trump had suddenly ordered the suspension of all US security assistance to Ukraine. It also claimed that Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump's attorney, repeatedly had contact with senior Ukrainian officials who would be involved in any investigations.

Joseph Maguire, the acting director of US national intelligence, admitted yesterday he had consulted the White House before refusing to hand over the whistleblower's complaint to Congress. However, he denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Maguire also said the whistleblower had acted "in good faith", "by the book" and in line with the law. Mr Trump criticised Democrats going after impeachment, saying: "It shouldn't be allowed. There should be a way of stopping it, maybe through the courts."

Meanwhile, former vice president Mr Biden has moved closer to calling for impeachment of Mr Trump, pointing to the rough transcript as evidence that Mr Trump likely committed "an impeachable offence".

Mr Biden, who had stopped short of calling for the president to be ousted, adjusted his stance after the White House shared the edited read-out of the 30-minute phone call made to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July.

According to the 2,000-word rough transcript, Mr Trump repeatedly suggested that Mr Zelensky investigate Mr Biden, offering help from the Justice Department and raising the possibility of inviting the foreign leader to the White House.

"Based on the material that they acknowledged today, it seems to me it's awful hard to avoid the conclusion that it is an impeachable offence and a violation of constitutional responsibility," Mr Biden said during an appearance on the 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' TV show.

Mr Biden said the saga won't distract from his campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I am confident in the ability of the House and Senate to deal with this," Mr Biden said. "My job is to go out and flat beat him."

Irish Independent

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