How the White House and Justice learned about whistleblower
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and the Justice Department learned about a CIA officer’s concerns about President Donald Trump around the same time the individual filed a whistleblower complaint that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry, according to a U.S. official and another person familiar with the matter.
The new details help flesh out the timeline of how alarm bells about Trump’s call with the Ukraine leader, in which he pressed for an investigation of a political rival, reverberated across the U.S. government and inside the upper ranks of its intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The details are fueling objections by Democratic lawmakers that the administration stonewalled them for weeks about the phone call and took extraordinary measures to suppress it from becoming public.
The intelligence official initially filed a complaint about Trump’s Ukraine dealings with the CIA, which then alerted the White House and the Justice Department. On Aug. 12, the official raised a separate flag, this time with the intelligence community’s inspector general, a process that granted the individual more legal “whistleblower” protection.
At that time, the complaint filed with the inspector general, the report that was the focus of House hearings this week, remained private.
But information about the whistleblower was already making its way through the administration. On Aug. 14, A White House lawyer, John Eisenberg, and a CIA official alerted the head of the Justice Department’s national security division about the original complaint to the CIA.
John Demers, who has led the national security division for the past year and a half and was a senior official at the department during the George W. Bush administration, went to the White House the next day to review materials associated with the call.
In the following weeks, Demers had discussions with other Justice Department officials about how to handle the CIA complaint, according to the person familiar with the matter. It was during that period that the Justice Department also received a notification from the intelligence community’s inspector general about the whistleblower complaint.
The timeline raises questions about how the White House and the Justice Department handled that second complaint. The administration initially blocked Congress from viewing it, and only released a redacted version of the report to lawmakers this week after the House impeachment inquiry had begun.
The Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr was first notified of Trump’s Ukraine call in late August, weeks after it happened, when the department learned that the inspector general believed the conversation could have amounted to a federal campaign finance crime.
The attorney general himself is referenced repeatedly in the call. The president presses Ukraine’s leader to work with Barr and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate corruption accusations, repeated with no evidence, against Democratic rival Joe Biden. The Justice Department has said Trump has never discussed the matter with Barr, or asked Barr to speak with Ukraine’s president about it.
Justice Department prosecutors reviewed a rough transcript of the Trump-Ukraine call - the official record kept by the White House - and determined that no crime was committed.
The House intelligence committee released the whistleblower’s complaint on Thursday. The nine-page letter details a July 25 phone call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy and also alleges that the White House sought to “lock down” details of the call by moving it onto a secure, classified computer system.
The complaint also details extensive interactions between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials.
The person familiar with the matter, as well as another person with knowledge of the case, confirmed that the whistleblower was a CIA officer.
The Associated Press is publishing information about the whistleblower’s background because the person’s credibility is central to the impeachment inquiry into the president. The New York Times first reported that the individual was a CIA officer.
A U.S. official and the two people familiar with the matter spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
One of the whistleblower’s attorneys, Mark Zaid, said publishing details about the individual places the person in a dangerous situation, personally and professionally. The CIA referred questions to the inspector general.