White House officials sought to "lock down" records of a phone call in which President Donald Trump abused his executive authority when he urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a whistleblower complaint made public Thursday.
The complaint is in part related to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump prodded Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Biden.
"In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to 'lock down' all the records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House situation room," the complaint said. "This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call."
U.S. & World
News from around the country and around the globe
The complaint said the full electronic call transcript was removed by White House officials at the direction of White House lawyers from the "computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored" before distribution to Cabinet-level officials and moved instead to another server that is used to handle and store information deemed classified and "especially sensitive." According to the whistleblower, one White House official described this act as an "abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective."
The whistleblower also said that multiple officials had voiced concerns about Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's role in seeking assistance from Ukraine to benefit the president's 2020 reelection campaign and in potentially circumventing "national security decision making processes."
In the call, Trump prodded Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to investigate Biden and said that Giuliani would be calling him.
The whistleblower said in the complaint that Giuliani traveled to Spain in early August to meet with one of Zelenskiy's advisers and that U.S. officials characterized the meeting to the whistleblower as a "direct follow-up" to Trump's call.
Giuliani, a Trump loyalist who represented the president in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, repeatedly communicated with advisers of Ukraine's president in the days after the phone call.
Giuliani had publicly stated his intention to secure from Ukraine derogatory information about Biden and his son Hunter, who was formerly on the board of a Ukrainian oil company.
The whistleblower also suggested in the complaint that the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine was removed from her post because she was getting in the way of Giuliani and Trump's efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government.
The White House, who had earlier balked at turning over the complaint, said in a statement Thursday that "nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings_all of which shows nothing improper."
The White House notes from the call released Wednesday already had shown that Trump prodded Zelenskiy to work with the U.S. attorney general and Giuliani to investigate Biden.
Lawmakers said they needed to see the complaint, not just the memo about the call, as they investigate the president and whether his actions were inappropriate.
The unidentified whistleblower first submitted a complaint to Michael Atkinson, the U.S. government's intelligence inspector general, in August. Atkinson deemed the allegations made within the complaint to be credible and then passed the complaint to the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. Maguire blocked release of the complaint to Congress, citing issues of presidential privilege and saying the complaint did not deal with an "urgent concern." Atkinson disagreed, but said his hands were tied.
Maguire testifyied publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday and privately before the Senate panel. Maguire told lawmakers the whistleblower "did the right thing" by coming forward and that they followed the law "every step of the way." Maguire said the situation is unique and unprecedented.
Atkinson, who met privately with House lawmakers last week, was also set to talk privately to the Senate committee Thursday.
The House and Senate committees have also invited the whistleblower to testify, but it is uncertain whether the person will appear and whether his or her identity could be adequately protected without Maguire's blessing. Schiff said Wednesday morning that Maguire still had not provided any instructions on how that could happen.
The whistleblower is prepared to speak privately before the Senate and House intelligence committees but the person's lawyers want to first ensure that they have the appropriate security clearances so that they can be present for any meeting, according to correspondence reviewed by The Associated Press.
"Legal representation is imperative in these matters," Andrew Bakaj wrote in a letter Wednesday to Maguire.
A separate letter to Maguire from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff makes a similar request for "appropriate security clearances" for the lawyers.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro, Laurie Kellman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.