Whistleblower claims White House attempted cover-up
The White House scrambled to "lock down" records of a telephone conversation in which U.S. President Donald Trump asked Ukraine's leader to investigate leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden, according to a whistleblower complaint released Thursday.
The individual, who has remained anonymous ahead of potential public congressional testimony, said in the nine-page complaint he or she received information from "multiple U.S. government officials" alleging Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
That included requests to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, for so far unsubstantiated claims of corruption.
In the ensuing days following the call, the whistleblower alleges the White House sought to reign in any records of the conversation, including a "word-for-word" transcript that normally accompanies calls made in the White House Situation Room.
Officials told the whistleblower that White House lawyers directed staffers to remove the electronic transcript of the call from the computer system in which they are normally held and transfer it to another system on which classified information "of an especially sensitive nature" is normally stored.
The complaint was released as the Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testifies before the House Intelligence Committee.
The documented was handed over to the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, in August. But Maguire blocked its dissemination to Congress citing executive privilege.
The White House on Wednesday released a rough transcript, which it noted is not verbatim, in which Trump asks Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son.
"I would like you to do us a favor," Trump said after Zelensky raised the issue of arms purchases from the U.S., according to the transcript.
"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great," Trump said. "I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call, and we will get to the bottom of it. I'm sure you will figure it out."
Trump was referring to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The whistleblower said multiple officials informed him that Giuliani then went on to travel to Madrid, Spain around Aug. 2 to meet Andriy Yermak as a "direct follow-up" to the July 25 call.
Revelations of the complaint and ensuing claims Trump sought to hold up hundreds of millions of dollars in military funding to Ukraine to leverage Zelensky have prompted the House of Representatives to open an impeachment probe into Trump.
Biden is the leading Democratic nominee heading into the 2020 presidential race, making him a clear political rival to the president.
Trump has acknowledged the call and freezing aid just days before, but he has denied he held up funding to pressure Zelensky, insisting there was no "quid pro quo" -- a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated a formal impeachment investigation into the president on Tuesday, setting off a chain of events that could lead to the president's ouster.
The House is constitutionally granted the power to begin impeachment proceedings against a sitting president in which it weighs charges against the commander-in-chief. If it approves by a majority at least one impeachment article the president is impeached and the matter is turned over to the Senate where proceedings akin to a trial begin.
If convicted by two-thirds of the chamber a president is forced out of office. That would appear unlikely in Trump's case where Republicans, who currently hold a majority there, are expected to line up behind the president.
Only two presidents have been impeached in U.S. history -- Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned from America's highest office in order to avoid the proceedings.