5 key take-aways and allegations from the Trump whistle-blower complaint
We now have the seven-page declassified whistle-blower complaint alleging misdeeds by President Donald Trump with regard to Ukraine.
Below are some of the key take-aways and allegations in it.
1. The White House allegedly tried to bury the Trump-Zelensky call
The whistle-blower said the White House went outside the normal process to prevent officials from reviewing the rough transcript of Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky -- the same rough transcript the White House released Wednesday amid pressure.
The complaint says officials told the whistle-blower that they were told to "lock down" all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript.
"According to multiple White House officials I spoke with, the transcript of the President's call with President Zelenskyy was placed into a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council (NSC) Directorate of Intelligence Programs," the complaint says, noting that it's an isolated computer system for "codeword-level intelligence information."
The complaint says officials thought this was an abuse of the system because it was done "solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive-rather than national security sensitive-information."
This, notably, would fly in the face of White House claims that its release of the phone call Wednesday was done for transparency reasons and that there was nothing wrong with the call. The call contains no apparent sensitive national security information, yet it was allegedly buried.
The whistle-blower also said they were told that this was "not the first time" something was handled like this.
2. Trump allegedly dangled a meeting with Zelensky as a reward
There has been plenty of speculation about whether military aid was a potential quid pro quo Trump used to encourage Zelensky to open his chosen investigations, including one involving Joe and Hunter Biden.
The complaint doesn't dwell upon that too much, saying it wasn't clear that Ukraine was even aware that aid was being withheld. What it does say is that officials believed Trump dangled a meeting with Zelensky -- something the Ukrainian leader badly wanted -- as a reward to "play ball."
"During this same time frame, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to 'play ball' on the issues that had been publicly aired by [former Ukraine prosecutor general Yuri] Lutsenko and [Trump's personal lawyer Rudolph W.] Giuliani."
The whistle-blower clarifies, though, that "I do not know who delivered this message to the Ukrainian leadership, or when."
Separately, the whistle-blower alleges that Trump also pulled back a planned visit to Ukraine by Vice President Mike Pence for these purposes.
"I learned from U.S. officials that, on or around 14 May, the President instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his planned travel to Ukraine to attend President Zelenskyy's inauguration on 20 May; Secretary of Energy Rick Perry led the delegation instead," the complaint alleges. The whistle-blower says it was "'made clear' to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy 'chose to act' in office."
The Washington Post has previously reported that Trump has resisted the idea of meeting with Zelensky. But on the July 25 phone call with him, after Zelensky suggests that he will pursue the investigations Trump wants, Trump indicates they will plan a meeting in Washington.
"Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call," Trump says on the call. "Give us a date, and we'll work that out."
On Wednesday at the United Nations, Zelensky said in an apparently joking manner of the still-unscheduled meeting: "And I want to thank you for invitation to Washington. You invited me, but I think -- I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But I think you forgot to tell me the date. But I think in the near future."
3. Two ambassadors allegedly worked to contain the potential damage
The whistle-blower describes two U.S. officials -- Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union -- trying to mitigate the potential damage caused by Trump's efforts.
"Based on multiple readouts of the meetings recounted to me by various U.S. officials," the whistle-blower says, "Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to 'navigate' the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy."
The whistle-blower adds that they were told:
-- that State Department officials, including Ambassadors Volker and Sondland, had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to "contain the damage" to U.S. national security; and
-- that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland during this time period met with members of the new Ukrainian administration and, in addition to discussing policy matters, sought to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other.
4. The whistle-blower nailed the July 25 call
White House officials and Republicans in Congress are already attacking the credibility of the whistle-blower, noting that almost all of the allegations rely on secondhand information from other U.S. officials.
But the whistleblower's characterization of the July 25 Trump-Zelensky phone call is spot-on, according to what we saw in the rough transcript the White House released Wednesday.
The whistle-blower wrote on Aug. 12, long before the call was released, that they were told Trump pressured Zelensky to:
-- initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden;
-- assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm CrowdStrike, which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC's networks in 2016; and
-- meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.
The whistle-blower also notes Trump lent his support to Ukraine's former prosecutor general, which is also on the call. And they note that Trump mentioned only the two investigations, which is true.
That suggests they did their homework.
5. Many people around Trump are apparently troubled, and some are allegedly assisting in a cover-up
Many of the things described above don't take place unless, a) multiple people are involved in the alleged corruption, and b) multiple people are raising concerns.
The whistle-blower said that "over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort."
They add that "in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another. In addition, a variety of information consistent with these private accounts has been reported publicly."
"Approximately a dozen" White House officials were listening to the Zelensky call, according to the complaint, and it describes a concerted effort to keep the rough transcript hidden. It also refers to efforts to communicate to Ukraine that meetings would be dependent upon Zelensky pursuing these investigations that would help Trump personally.
If there is something wrong here, lots of people were complicit. And by the same token, lots of people seemed to be concerned enough to talk about it and to try to work around the edges to contain the damage.
This means there are lots of potential witnesses here and lots of potential hearings ahead in House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.