Explosive new reports find whistleblower complaint about Trump involves Ukraine

Explosive new reports find whistleblower complaint about Trump involves Ukraine
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

As the mystery about a suppressed whistleblower complaint potentially involving President Donald Trump continues to unfurl, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported Thursday night that the matter under scrutiny involves Ukraine.

This key new detail, if correct, all but completes the puzzle at the center of a swelling dispute between the White House, the Justice Department, the intelligence community, and Congress. Here's why.

The Post had previously reported that the whistleblower's complaint, which is being kept from Congress in apparent violation of the law by top Trump officials, concerns a "promise" Trump made to a foreign leader. The New York Times built on this reporting by saying it wasn't just a single promise or phone call in question but a series of "multiple acts." Now both outlets confirm that Ukraine is involved.

So assuming that the leader who received the promise is indeed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — which isn't confirmed by the reporting, but is a natural inference — what could Trump have been promising him?

We don't actually have to speculate much to see a plausible story. Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, has been open about a campaign to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and events related to Trump's 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was accused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of being an undisclosed agent of Ukraine. As part of his effort to influence Ukrainian policy in a way that could clearly influence the 2020 election, Giuliani even worked with the U.S. State Department, as he has admitted.

But this apparent effort to ratchet up pressure on Zelensky seemed to escalate over the summer when the White House tried to delay military aid to Ukraine. Last week, Trump finally dropped the delay and released the funds following blowback from Congress.

The Washington Post editorial board wrote of the delay in early September:

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 Mr. 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.

The U.S. House committees on foreign affairs, intelligence and government oversight have begun investigating the matter.

Zelensky has said he hopes to meet with Trump at the White House. And yet the Independent reported:

But there have been claims that Mr Trump had refused to meet Mr Zelensky after his election this year, and that US officials have warned this would continue to be the case unless the Ukrainian authorities reopened the Burisma files.

The house committees’ chairs say they will scrutinise a telephone call between the US president and Mr Zelensky on 25 July, during which Mr Trump allegedly told the Ukrainian president to reopen the Biden investigation if he wanted to improve relations with the US.

Burisma is an energy company that had been under investigation in Ukraine before Trump took office. Biden's son Hunter was a member of its board, and Giuliani and Trump have suggested that the former vice president had a role in getting the investigation dropped. Ukrainian officials, however, have denied this, and the allegation appears baseless.

But Trump would surely love to see the leading Democratic presidential candidate under investigation — it worked out quite well for him in 2016.

So the question is: Did Trump promise to permit the aid to Ukraine in exchange for a probe of Biden? Could he have promised a visit to the White House instead? Or perhaps the "promise" involved "a separate aid package worth $140m" from the State Department, which the Independent reports is potentially still in the works?

We don't know, and some might say it's unfair to theorize. But here's what we do know. The public Trump/Giuliani scheme in itself to influence the Ukrainian was wildly improper and corrupt. They never should have been pressuring a foreign government to investigate a political opponent, putting the weight of the administration behind them either explicitly or implicitly. Applying this pressure openly and then delaying a congressionally approved aid package was already beyond the pale.

And now we know that there were events behind the scenes this summer that raised additional red flags for an intelligence community employee. Then the inspector general, reviewing the complaint, raised his own alarms. But higher-up Trump officials have determined to block that complaint from getting to Congress, despite the clear letter of the law that says the intelligence committees in the House and Senate are entitled to the materials. The effort to block the complaint suggests it's even more serious than we would otherwise suspect.

And, to top it all off, Trump has openly said he would be willing to seek foreign government's election dirt on his political opponents, despite laws against accepting any such valuable assistance.

All that is damning and demands answers even before we consider reports from the highly credible media outlets that are filling in the picture with even more details.

We need to get answers — and that begins by asking tough questions.

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