“Well, the whistleblower was very inaccurate. The whistleblower started this whole thing by writing a report on the conversation I had with the president of Ukraine. And the conversation was perfect; it couldn’t have been nicer.”
— President Trump, remarks to reporters, Oct. 2, 2019
“The whistleblower said terrible things about the call, but he then — I then found out he was secondhand and third-hand. In other words, he didn’t know what was on the call.”
— Trump, remarks to reporters, Oct. 2
“The Whistleblower’s facts have been so incorrect about my ‘no pressure’ conversation with the Ukrainian President.”
–Trump, in a tweet, Oct. 9
Despite Trump’s claim that the whistleblower was “very inaccurate” or “so incorrect,” much of the details of the whistleblower complaint have already been confirmed by additional information, documents and reporting. Here’s a quick guide to what the whistleblower alleged — and what has been confirmed. (Note: While Trump dismissed the information as “secondhand and third-hand,” the whistleblower signed a form saying he was a firsthand witness to at least some of the events recounted.)
We will examine the whistleblower’s allegations in the order in which he made them, under the sections as he labeled them.
I. The 25 July Presidential phone call
Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “initiate or continue an investigation” into Joe Biden.
Correct. The rough transcript released by the White House shows Trump telling Zelensky: “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 [William P. Barr] would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.” (Note: The ellipsis appears in the White House document, suggesting something may have been removed before release.) As we have documented, Trump’s claim that Biden stopped the prosecution of his son Hunter is false.
Trump raised the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory.
Correct. The complaint says that Trump asked Zelensky for assistance in examining the debunked theory that the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was started in Ukraine.
The whistleblower also said Trump made “a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike.” Trump’s language is not especially precise, but he certainly suggests Ukraine has the DNC servers and asks Zelensky “to get to the bottom of it.” (The rough White House transcript also has ellipses in this section, indicating sections could have been removed before release.)
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”
Trump told Zelensky to “meet or speak” with his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and Barr.
Yes, this happened repeatedly in the call: “I will ask him [Giuliani] to call you along with the Attorney General,” 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,” he said at another point. Also: “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.” Trump also suggested that a presidential-level meeting — long sought by Zelensky — would happen only after Zelensky met first with Giuliani: “We are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.”
Trump “praised” the current prosecutor.
Trump does not specifically mention Yuriy Lutsenko, who was on the outs with Zelensky and removed from office the next month. Trump offers praise, however, for an unnamed prosecutor: “A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.” Trump also said: “I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.”
Trump only discussed “corruption cases” involving Biden and the DNC.
True. The whistleblower noted that the official Ukrainian readout of the call said Trump asked Zelensky to “complete the investigation of corruption cases that have held back cooperation between Ukraine and the United States.” He wrote that, aside from Biden and the 2016 election, “I was told by White House officials that no other ‘cases’ were discussed.” This is confirmed by the rough White House transcript; no other “corruption cases” were discussed.
A specific State Department official was on the call.
The whistleblower said that “I was told that a State Department official, Mr. T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, also listened in on the call.” Brechbuhl is State Department counselor and reports to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. His participation has not been confirmed, but Pompeo has acknowledged being on the call. Pompeo, of course, is more senior than Brechbuhl.
Trump suggested Lutsenko should be retained.
Despite Trump’s praise for a “very good” and “very fair” prosecutor, the available version of the transcript shows he did not suggest that Lutsenko be retained.
II. Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call
Officials intervened to “lock down” records of the call.
The whistleblower said that “the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.” The White House has confirmed this is true. He added that “this set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.” CNN has reported that “at least one National Security Council official alerted the White House’s national security lawyers about the concerns,” and then the White House’s national security lawyers ordered the transcript to be moved “to prevent more people from seeing it.”
There was a “word-for-word” transcript.
The rough transcript released by the White House has a warning note that it is not verbatim. Given that there are ellipses in the document, not common in official White House summaries, it’s unclear if there is a more complete version available.
III. Ongoing concerns
U.S. envoy Volker’s role
The whistleblower said U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, the special representative for Ukraine negotiations, visited Kiev the day after the call and “provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.” (Zelenskyy is a different transliteration of Zelensky.) The complaint also highlighted the role of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump campaign contributor who ordinarily would not be expected to have a role in Ukraine policy matters. All of these elements have since been confirmed by Volker in his testimony before Congress and public records.
Giuliani’s travel and interactions
The whistleblower said Giuliani met Aug. 2 in Madrid with a Zelensky adviser and reached out to other aides as well. The Madrid meeting had not been publicly disclosed at the time; Volker and Giuliani have confirmed it.
IV. Circumstances leading up to the 25 July presidential phone call
The ambassador was recalled under “pressure.”
The whistleblower alleged that career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch was recalled early from her position as ambassador to Ukraine because of her conflicts with Lutsenko and his poor record of fighting corruption. Lutsenko made some public allegations that were amplified by Giuliani and conservative media outlets. At the time, “Mr. Lutsenko’s political patron, President Poroshenko, was trailing Mr. Zelenskyy in the polls and appeared likely to be defeated.” Subsequent reporting has uncovered that Yovanovitch was recalled on Trump’s orders.
Officials were concerned about Giuliani’s “circumvention” of foreign policy.
True. The whistleblower reported that “starting in mid-May” he heard from “multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.” The Washington Post reported there was “a months-long fight inside the administration that sidelined national security officials and empowered political loyalists — including the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani — to exploit the U.S. relationship with Kiev.” CNN disclosed that in a May 23 meeting Trump “directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and two top State Department officials to deal with his private attorney Rudy Giuliani when the Ukrainian President sought to meet Trump, in a clear circumvention of official channels.”
A phone call or meeting with Trump depended on whether Zelensky was willing to “play ball.”
The whistleblower wrote that this was “the general understanding of the state of affairs,” but he did not know who delivered the message. Volker’s testimony and various text messages released by Congress, however, confirm this allegation.
For instance, in a text message ahead of the July 25 phone call, Volker told an adviser to Zelensky: “Heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow — kurt.” And Andrey Yermak, an aide to Zelensky, wrote in an Aug. 10 message to Volker: “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling investigations.” (Burisma Holdings is the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden had been a board member from 2014 to 2019.)
(U) Additional information related to Section II
Vice President Pence canceled plans to attend Zelensky’s inauguration.
True. The Washington Post reported: “Trump instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May — an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president’s calendar — when Ukraine’s new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington,” according to current and former U.S. officials.
In mid-July, Trump suspended all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.
True. Trump confirmed he had done so but insisted it was unrelated to Biden. Instead, he claimed he wanted European nations to pony up more funds for Ukraine. (European nations already contribute more to Ukraine than the United States.) In the complaint, the whistleblower does not link the security assistance to Trump’s demands — “I do not know definitively whether the below-mentioned decisions are connected to the broader efforts I describe” — but he notes that U.S. officials “were unaware of a policy rationale.”
That has been confirmed by subsequent reporting, though in one instance a top diplomat privately thought there was a link between the aid and the requested Biden probe: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” wrote Bill Taylor, chargé d’affaires to Ukraine, in September to Sondland. Sondland replied there was no quid pro quo and the two should stop texting about it. Nevertheless, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has said that Sondland also told him that release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the requested investigations — but that Trump denied it when Johnson asked him if that was true.
The Pinocchio Test
It will be up to Congress to determine whether Trump has been “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” as the whistleblower alleged. But thus far, with the exception of some minor details, virtually all of the specific points of the complaint have held up and been confirmed. Trump has no basis to claim the whistleblower complaint is “very inaccurate.” The president earns Four Pinocchios.
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