A complicated and murky new scandal unfolded in bits and pieces last week involving an unspecified “promise” allegedly made by President Trump to a foreign leader that prompted a member of the US intelligence community to file a formal complaint. There is plenty that remains unknown, but here’s a look at what has happened so far.
Here’s what we know:
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a recent communication between President Trump and an unnamed foreign leader involved some kind of “promise.” It reportedly so alarmed a US intelligence official that he or she lodged a formal whistle-blower complaint with a federal watchdog on Aug. 12.
The Post reported Thursday that the complaint did not revolve around a single phone call, but rather multiple communications.
Adding to the controversy, the whistle-blower complaint was made in such a way that it would normally require watchdog officials to notify certain members of Congress about it. But the inspector general for the intelligence community did not disclose the contents of the complaint, reportedly because he had been ordered not to. That set off a legal fight, as House Oversight Committee chairman Adam Schiff has demanded the contents and the director of national intelligence has resisted turning it over.
On Thursday night, President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in an eyebrow-raising interview, said on CNN that he had asked the Ukrainian government to investigate allegations that former vice president Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to dismiss a prosecutor who was probing a gas company where Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a board member. (The Associated Press breaks down those allegations here.)
Then on Friday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump pressured the leader of Ukraine “about eight times” during a phone call to investigate Biden’s son and work with Giuliani on such a probe. The paper reported that its source “didn’t believe Mr. Trump offered the Ukrainian president any quid-pro-quo for his cooperation.” The Washington Post followed up shortly after the Journal story with its own reporting that the call was at the center of the whistle-blower’s complaint.
Here’s what we don’t know:
We don’t know the nature of the “promise” Trump allegedly made to the foreign leader. Reports out Friday suggested there was no explicit quid-pro-quo, but a Washington Post editorial published on Sept. 5, more than a week before the first Post story broke, included some reporting on Trump’s goals in Ukraine:
“Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”
What’s been President Trump’s response?
Trump on Friday called the whistle-blower story “ridiculous” and a “political hack job.” He said he did not know the identity of the whistle-blower but dismissed the person as “partisan.”
“I’ve had conversations with many leaders, they’re always appropriate, at the highest level,” he said.
After initially refusing to say whether he spoke to the leader of Ukraine about Biden, Trump on Sunday suggested that he did exactly that.
‘‘It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,’’ Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Texas.
Trump has also tweeted about the issue, asking whether anyone is “dumb enough to believe” he’d make an inappropriate promise to a foreign leader over the phone.
....Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially “heavily populated” call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2019