The investigation into Donald Trump’s “promise” to a foreign leader, which shocked a member of the intelligence community into making a complaint, relates to Ukraine, according to numerous media outlets.
The complaint was made two weeks after Trump spoke to newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, in late July, where the leaders discussed improving U.S.-Ukraine relations by boosting investigations into corruption.
But questions are being raised on Capitol Hill about whether Trump may have pressed Ukraine to kickstart politically sensitive investigations that would help him in the 2020 election, and hurt one of his top Democratic opponents, Joe Biden.
Trump is facing mounting pressure after it was revealed that a U.S. intelligence official found comments the president made to a foreign leader so concerning that they filed a formal whistleblower complaint to the inspector general.
Trump has dismissed the reports, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill are now pushing to get access to the full details of the complaint.
But the Department of Justice and the White House are attempting to block the acting director of national intelligence from releasing the full complaint, claiming it isn't governed by laws covering intelligence whistleblowers, CNN reported Thursday.
- July 25: Trump spoke to Zelensky on July 25 “to congratulate him on his recent election, according to a readout from Ukraine’s presidential office. The memo also says the pair spoke about “investigations into corruption cases that have hampered interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A.”
- August 12: The whistleblower filed the formal complaint with the inspector general, Michael Atkinson.
- Sept 5: A Washington Post editorial titled “Is Trump strong-arming Volodymyr Zelensky for political gain?” alleged that Trump was seeking to force Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election. Trump’s decision to suspend $250 million worth of military aid to Ukraine was seen in many quarters as an effort to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin. But others saw another motive. “We’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden," The Post’s editorial board wrote.
- Sept. 13: House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-California) subpoenaed Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, demanding he produce all the relevant details about an urgent whistleblower complaint that was being withheld. Schiff says the complaint was determined to be “credible” by Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
- Sept. 18: The Washington Post reported that the complaint has to do with a “promise” Trump made to the foreign leader he was speaking to.
- Sept. 19: Atkinson gave evidence to the House Intelligence Committee on in a closed-door meeting Thursday. According to sources speaking to the Washington Post, the inspector general was “excruciatingly careful about the language he used,” but said he disagreed with the DNI lawyers’ analysis that this fell outside of his purview. Atkinson added that the complaint stemmed from more than one conversation.
- Sept 19: Multiple media outlets confirmed reporting from the Washington Post that the complaint is related to Ukraine.
Who is Volodymyr Zelensky?
Zelensky, a comedian whose only previous political experience was playing a president in a sitcom, won a surprise victory in April when he beat political heavyweight Petro Poroshenko. One of his first actions as president was to call a snap parliamentary election to capitalize on his popularity.
While some questioned the wisdom of calling the election, the results cemented Zelensky’s position, and his majority in Parliament will allow him to push through the radical reforms he wants to enact during his presidency. They include tackling Ukraine’s rampant corruption.
What is Trumpworld saying?
Trump used Twitter to deny the Post’s initial story on Thursday morning, calling it “another fake news story.”
“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.”
“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,” Trump wrote.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, has reportedly pushed for Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponents, including Biden.
Giuliani has pressed for Ukraine to investigate whether officials there took steps to damage Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether Biden may have improperly tried to assist his son Hunter’s gas business in Ukraine, according to The New York Times.
On Thursday night, after news of Ukraine’s involvement was reported, Giuliani addressed the allegation about Biden in an interview with CNN. Giuliani initially denied he ever asked Ukranian officials to investigate the former vice-president, then immediately contradicted himself, saying: “Of course I did.”
What are Democrats doing?
Schiff called Maguire’s decision not to share details of the complaint as “unprecedented” on Thursday, telling reporters: “We cannot get an answer to the question about whether the White House is also involved in preventing this information from coming to Congress. We’re determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is to make sure that the national security is protected.”
“Someone is trying to manipulate the system to keep information about an urgent matter from Congress,” Schiff said. “There certainly are a lot of indications that it was someone at a higher pay grade than the director of national intelligence.”
Cover: President Donald Trump talks with reporters after touring a section of the southern border wall, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Otay Mesa, Calif. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)