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Trump lashes out at ‘spies’ behind Ukraine complaint as he is accused of cover-up

Day of drama as whistleblower’s report accuses president of abuse of power and his intelligence chief is forced to defend his actions

Phil Thomas
New York
,Chris Riotta
Friday 27 September 2019 10:26 BST
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Maguire: Whistleblower complaint over Trump's Ukraine call was credible

Donald Trump has lashed out at staff who said the White House “locked down” details of his phone call with the Ukrainian president – baselessly likening them to spies and alluding to possible punishment.

Mr Trump was speaking after congress released parts of a whistleblower’s report, in which an unnamed intelligence agent raised fears that the president was abusing his power by pressing for foreign interference in the 2020 election.

The report claims that White House aides were ordered to “lock down” evidence of a phone call in which Mr Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, the frontrunner to be the Democratic candidate next year.

The author of the report says they did not witness most of the claims personally but relied on information from “multiple” government officials.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives who this week triggered an impeachment probe against the president that could see him removed from power, accused the White House of a “cover-up”.

In a day of drama on Capitol Hill, Mr Trump’s intelligence chief gave evidence to two congressional committees. Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, insisted he had done nothing wrong by not immediately giving the whistleblower’s report to congress, or by showing the complaint to the White House.

But he refused to say whether he had discussed the matter with Mr Trump, saying he could not disclose details of his conversations with the president.

Mr Trump later told reporters that he wanted to find a way to stop the impeachment process “maybe legally, through the courts”.

He also reportedly made a series of ominous comments about the White House staff who provided information to the whistleblower, at a private meeting.

According to the New York Times, he said that anyone who provided information was “close to a spy”.

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information, because that’s close to a spy,” the president was quoted as saying. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

He reportedly then referred to the media as “scum”.

The New York Times also reported that the whistleblower is a male CIA officer who was detailed to the White House. The paper said the nature of his complaint suggested that he is familiar with US foreign policy towards Europe with a sophisticated understanding of Ukraine and some legal knowledge – all of which could reassure politicians about the integrity of his report.

The complaint itself – which the White House had previously tried to avoid giving to congress – alleges that intelligence staff were alarmed at the nature of Mr Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and that aides tried to conceal records of it.

White House officials “were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call”, the complaint reads. “They told me that there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.”

They were allegedly “directed” by lawyers to remove the transcript from the computer system where it would normally be stored.

The complaint says: “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. One White House official described this act as an abuse of the electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.”

It is also alleged that Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, “is a central figure in this effort”, and that the attorney-general, William Barr, “appears to be involved as well”.

Ms Pelosi, whose decision to impeach represents a huge gamble for Democrats ahead of next year’s election, condemned what she called a “cover-up”.

She said Mr Trump had “betrayed his oath of office, our national security and the integrity” of US elections.

The president himself unleashed a volley of tweets condemning the report and insisting that the whistleblower only had “second-hand information”, even though their description of the Ukraine telephone call tallies with that put out by the White House this week.

Mr Giuliani, whose involvement in Ukrainian matters is coming under increasing scrutiny, told The Atlantic that he was doing nothing inappropriate and should be praised, adding: “When this is over, I will be the hero.”

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Meanwhile, a former prosecutor general in Ukraine undermined Mr Trump’s repeated claims that Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, was involved in corrupt business practices in the former Soviet republic. Yuri Lutsenko told the Washington Post that he had not broken any Ukrainian laws.

Mr Trump has also accused Hunter Biden of corruptly taking $1.5bn (£1.2bn) out of China. Mr Biden’s lawyer has said that his client has not actually received anything from his investment in China. The president has not provided any evidence to back his claims.

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