Trump impeachment: White House ‘hid details’ of calls with Putin and Saudi crown prince

President furious about leaking of calls to leaders of Mexico and Australia

Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 29 September 2019 18:58 BST
Trump uses UN setting to attack critics in rambling speech: 'How can they impeach for that?'

The Trump administration went to great lengths to restrict access to information about the president’s phone calls to controversial world leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, reports say.

It was alleged this week in a whistleblower complaint being examined by Congress, that the White House sought to “lock down” details of Mr Trump’s 25 July conversation with the leader of Ukraine, storing the information in a server normally used for the most classified material.

The complaint, made by a CIA officer who claimed Mr Trump asked during the phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky for help in digging up dirt on political rival Joe Biden, said “senior White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript”.

“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” it added.

“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalisation, and distribution to cabinet-level officials.

“Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”

Now, it has been reported details of Mr Trump’s conversations with some other world leaders have been made very hard to access for officials. CNN was the first to report the White House severely restricted distribution of memos detailing his calls to Mr Putin and the crown prince.

The report suggested the move was done out of concern for details of the conversation being leaked, and there was no evidence of anything untoward being said during the conversations.

Mr Trump had been furious when details of his conversation with the leader of Mexico on paying for a border wall, and with the leader of Australia about abiding by an Obama administration deal on asylum-seekers, were made public.

In previous administrations, rough transcripts of presidential phone calls were kept private, but not housed on the highly classified computer system unless sensitive national security information was discussed. Summaries of the calls were distributed to relevant officials in the White House, the state department and other agencies.

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On Friday, the White House acknowledged the Ukraine call was moved to a highly classified system at the direction of Mr Trump’s national security council lawyers.

In a statement to CNN, a White House official said staff had been directed by the lawyers to move records of the call to a server usually used to store classified information. They said: “NSC lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately.”

The latest details have emerged as Democrats push ahead with six separate impeachment probes into Mr Trump, after House speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed a change of mind about the wisdom of such a move.

The accusations of misconduct levelled at Mr Trump appear have unnerved a number of Republicans, even as the president has sought to dismiss the Democrats’ actions as nothing more than a “witch hunt”.

On Friday, congressman Mark Amodei of Nevada became the first Republican member of the House of Representatives to back the investigation, though he stressed he had not decided if there was any evidence the president had acted wrongly.

Last week, Mr Trump was captured on an audio recording denouncing the whistleblower and saying they were “almost a spy”.

“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right,” the president told US diplomats at the UN.

“We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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