by Robert Romano
In 2017, President Donald Trump’s conversations with foreign heads of state in Mexico and Australia — which are classified information — were leaked to news outlets with the purpose of undermining U.S. policies on immigration, the southern border wall and refugees.
Because there was only one of two ways for the contents of those conversations to get to the press. Either, they were intercepted and leaked, or transcripts were taken from the White House by staff and given to reporters, with the latter being more likely.
We were pretty outraged at the time. The communications between heads of state being kept secret is vital to national security and the President’s conduct of foreign affairs. They still are, and will be long after President Trump has served out his term or terms of office.
Well, it’s happened again. This time with President Donald Trump’s now declassified July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
First, it was transcribed by White House staff, as per usual practice, and then, according to the now declassified so-called whistleblower complaint, somebody or somebodies with access to the phone call on the National Security Council disagreed with the President’s approach to Ukraine policy.
Trump had asked for Ukraine’s assistance in getting to the bottom of the origins of the phony Russiagate investigation by intelligence agencies in 2016, and brought the firing of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General at former Vice President Joe Biden’s urging when he threatened $1 billion of loan guarantees to Zelensky’s attention, who noted he was already aware of the matter.
Biden for his part was given wide latitude by former President Barack Obama to run Ukraine policy after Viktor Yanukovich was overthrown, a coup which the U.S. backed. The prosecutor he had fired, Viktor Shokin, says he was investigating a natural gas firm, Burisma Holdings, who Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the board of directors of and that that’s why he was fired. Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations in Jan. 2018 he threatened then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko with the $1 billion unless he fired Shokin: “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ …Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.” Was Obama aware of this?
The intelligence whistleblower also implied that the U.S. could be withholding military assistance to Ukraine until Zelensky agreed to go after Biden, but no such coercion could be found in the transcript and Zelensky has stated publicly that he was not pressured. The President had put a brief pause on military assistance to Ukraine pending a review by the Defense and State Departments, which was ultimately released on Sept. 11, and now reports suggest that Ukrainian officials were unaware of the pause in funding until after the call took place.
Politico’s Caitlin Emma and Connor O’Brien, who first reported the pause in aid in late August, noted that “United States military aid to Ukraine has long been seen as a litmus test for how strongly the American government is pushing back against Moscow.” Surely it was viewed that way, as the question of military assistance to Ukraine, which the Obama administration rejected, was long an element of the now-debunked conspiracy theory that President Trump was a Russian agent.
Next, according to the complaint, the disgruntled White House officials complained to a U.S. intelligence official, who writes he or she did not have access to the conversation, but transcribed the gist of it in a whistleblower complaint on Aug. 12.
Then, the complaint was transferred from the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG) to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Aug. 26. A part of the accompanying letter said, “the ICIG’s preliminary review identified some indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate.” But, even with that bias, plus the fact that the complaint was based on hearsay and that it contained numerous factual errors, remarkably, found the complaint to be “credible.”
The Justice Department then evaluated the legal merits of the complaint, which were ultimately rejected by the Office of Legal Counsel on Sept. 3.
Finally, the New York Times and the Washington Post got a hold of it and began detailing the conversation on Sept. 19, which was still classified at that point, meaning the disclosure of the information to the press was likely a crime in violation of federal statute.
Since the disclosures, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for President Trump to be impeached before anyone could even see the transcript.
In sum, a politically motivated CIA complaint against President Trump on Ukraine policy has led instantly to an impeachment push by Democrats in the House of Representatives. Was that the point?
Since these disclosures, the Trump administration has pushed back, with the Justice Department confirming that U.S. Attorney John Durham is in fact looking at foreign involvement in the counterintelligence investigation of Trump in 2016, including Ukraine. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Sept. 25, “A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election… While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”
The so-called whistleblower complaint refers directly to the Durham investigation into the origins of the Russiagate investigation, and the efforts by Rudy Giuliani and reporting by The Hill’s John Solomon to uncover the same.
A footnote states, “In an interview with Fox News on 8 August, Mr. Giuliani claimed that Mr. John Durham, whom Attorney General Barr designated to lead this probe, was ‘spending a lot of time in Europe’ because he was ‘investigating Ukraine.’ I do not know the extent to which, if at all, Mr. Giuliani is directly coordinating his efforts on Ukraine with Attorney General Barr or Mr. Durham.”
If the concern was about Biden, why include the Durham investigation? Why complain about Barr and Durham, and tie them to Trump, Giuliani and Solomon? That only appears relevant to the complaint in order to discredit the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation. They’re the targets.
Trump was trying to get to the bottom of the origins of Russiagate in his phone call to Zelensky, and Biden came up, too. The President believes the investigation might have originated in Ukraine. Biden ran Obama’s Ukraine policy and has bragged about getting that country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor fired. The Justice Department is looking at Ukraine. So are Giuliani and Solomon.
And so, a CIA agent working at the White House gets all of that information, into a neat package in the whistleblower complaint, was elevated by senior intelligence officials even though it was erroneous, which fortunately was rejected by the Justice Department, and then the classified information was illegally parceled out to the New York Times and Washington Post by somebody in order to make it public.
Within a week of the reporting House Democrats are ready to impeach Trump.
That’s a lot of coincidences.
So, did the CIA just try to overthrow President Trump and to discredit Attorney General Barr, Giuliani and Solomon to cover up the origins of the Russiagate investigation by intelligence agencies that falsely accused Trump and his campaign of being Russian agents in 2016, and to protect Biden?
Maybe not, and maybe nothing. But if this were a novel, I’d say we are getting to the interesting part.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.