President Trump knew of whistleblower complaint when he released aid to Ukraine: report

Lawyers from the White House counsel's office reportedly briefed Trump on the complaint before he released the aid

Published November 27, 2019 5:09PM (EST)

 (Getty/Alex Wong)
(Getty/Alex Wong)

President Donald Trump had already been briefed about a whistleblower's complaint concerning his July 25 phone call with Ukraine's leader when he released some $400 million in military aid for the country, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Lawyers from the White House counsel's office reportedly told the president in late August about the whistleblower's complaint to the intelligence community, which raised concerns about Trump potentially dangling the funds in an effort to compel Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations that would implicate Trump's domestic political rivals and boost his re-election campaign.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy, John Eisenberg, reportedly knew of the complaint in August and concluded that the administration did not have to hand it over to lawmakers, even though the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, determined that the whistleblower's allegations amounted to an "urgent concern." (If a complaint meets that standard, the inspector general is supposed to forward it to the director of national intelligence, who in turn is required to submit the material to the House and Senate intelligence committees.)

In the complaint, the whistleblower, whose identity has not been made public, accused Trump of abusing his power by soliciting a foreign power to interfere on his behalf in the 2020 presidential election. The White House sought to cover up those efforts, the whistleblower alleged.

It is unclear how much detail Cipollone and Eisenberg provided to Trump about the whistleblower's complaint. Trump released some of the funds in early September, a move which came after lawmakers were alerted to the existence of the whistleblower complaint.

House Democrats in September launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump's actions, alleging that he sought to leverage security funding and a potential White House meeting in an effort to pressure Zelensky to open investigations which could potentially benefit him. The Democrats argued that Trump's communications with his Ukrainian counterpart amount to a "quid pro quo."

They also announced the same month that they were investigating alleged efforts by Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to solicit Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son, Hunter Biden.

Mark Sandy, a top career official in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told Congress earlier this month that he learned of Trump's decision to freeze the aid through an email from an aide to acting White House chief of staff. The White House has not commented publicly on the matter.

Democrats have tried to outline a timeline of events related to the White House's decision to withhold the aid from Ukraine. The House Budget Committee on Tuesday alleged Tuesday in a report that the OMB engaged in a "pattern of abuse" of its authority and the law in withholding the aid to Ukraine.

In findings based on documents turned over by the OMB, the Democratic-led House Budget Committee details the unusual steps the agency took over the summer as it moved to hold up millions in State Department and Pentagon funds for Ukraine which had already been approved by Congress, including several discussed by Sandy in his testimony to impeachment investigators.

These included putting Duffey in charge of signing off on withholding $250 million in funds for Ukraine on the evening of July 25 — just hours after Trump spoke on the phone with Zelensky and mentioned the investigations.

OMB issued several short-term withholdings of Ukraine aid in August and September. Some of the funds were released on Sept. 11 after lawmakers were alerted to the existence of a whistleblower complaint detailing concerns over Trump's mid-July call with Zelensky. The remainder of the funds were reportedly released Sept. 27 and Sept. 30 — the last day of the fiscal year.

The House Budget Committee's report also said that OMB turned over only a portion of the documents requested two months ago by House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.

"After careful review of the materials provided to the committees, the chairs have become more concerned that the apportionment process has been abused to undermine Congress’ constitutional power of the purse," the committee said in its report.

By Shira Tarlo

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