- Erin Scott/Reuters
- The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and the intelligence community’s watchdog, Michael Atkinson, referred a whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, The New York Times reported.
- Atkinson was reportedly concerned that a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that’s at the center of the complaint could amount to a violation of federal campaign finance laws.
- The Justice Department’s criminal division reviewed the complaint and determined there were no grounds to investigate Trump’s behavior because the call didn’t show him breaking the law by asking for a financial contribution or item of value.
- But notes from the call released on Wednesday indicate that Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, after discussing US military aid to Ukraine.
- The US president made no direct mention of offering aid in exchange for Zelensky’s assistance in probing Biden, but be brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” right before asking Zelensky for a favor.
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The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, referred a whistleblower complaint involving President Donald Trump to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Yahoo News reported that Atkinson told Maguire that a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, which is at the center of the whistleblower complaint, could amount to a federal campaign finance violation.
Notes of the call that the White House released on Wednesday show Trump repeatedly pressing Zelensky to discredit the Russia investigation and investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Trump asked Zelensky to do him that “favor” after Zelensky raised the issue of US military aid to Ukraine.
The Justice Department’s criminal division reviewed the whistleblower’s complaint and determined that there were no grounds for an investigation of Trump’s behavior, The Times reported. Officials are said to have decided that the memo of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky didn’t show him violating campaign finance laws by asking for a financial contribution or an “item of tangible value.”
But notes of the phone call indicate that Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens after discussing US military aid to Ukraine.
‘We do a lot for Ukraine’
Trump had ordered the US to withhold the nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before the phone call. The US president made no direct mention of offering aid in exchange for Zelensky’s assistance in probing Biden, but be brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” right before asking Zelensky for a favor.
Early in the call, Trump reminded Zelensky that “we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing.”
Zelensky agreed, telling Trump he was “absolutely right.” He added, “The European Union should be our biggest partner but technically the United States is a much bigger partner than the European Union … the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian president went on to thank Trump for “your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we’re almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”
Trump then responded, “I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. 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.”
The US president was referring to the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, which the Democratic National Committee hired to respond to Russia’s breach of its servers during the 2016 election. Trump’s reference to “the server” relates to an unfounded conspiracy theory that the DNC hid an incriminating server from the FBI while the bureau was investigating Russia’s hack, and that the server contains information about who was really responsible for the breach.
Trump’s discussion of the server and Crowdstrike with Zelensky shows his continued reluctance to accept the US intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to propel him to the presidency.
‘Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great’
“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 said, according to the notes. “Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
He then pivoted to discussing Biden: “There’s a lot of talk about [former vice president Joe 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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump and his allies maintain that he did nothing wrong during the phone call. But national-security veterans and congressional Democrats have sounded the alarm over his move to repeatedly pressure a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent ahead of a presidential election.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump stemming from the call and the whistleblower’s complaint.
Shortly after, Trump reportedly reached out to Pelosi and tried to negotiate with her about releasing the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress, but Pelosi shot him down and told him, “Tell your people to obey the law.”
The shift appears to indicate that the White House is taking the impeachment proceedings seriously, even as Trump decries them as a continuation of the “witch hunt” he’s long said has been wielded against him and his presidency.
The White House decided on Tuesday evening to release the whistleblower’s complaint to congressional intelligence committees. The move came after Pelosi’s announcement and after the Senate, in a rare show of bipartisanship, unanimously voted for a resolution calling for the complaint to be released to Congress.