News World White House tried to cover up president’s Ukraine phone call: Whistleblower
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White House tried to cover up president’s Ukraine phone call: Whistleblower

A White House letter vowing to defy the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump is likely to help the investigation, Democrats say. Photo: Getty
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Multiple US government officials privy to the Ukraine phone call were “deeply disturbed” that Donald Trump had used his position to “solicit interference” from a foreign power, a whistleblower’s report reveals.

A declassified version of the complaint that sparked the phone call scandal has been released, detailing the whistleblower’s claims about the US president’s misuse of office.

It reveals the complainant received information from more than six US officials about the July 25 chat between the two presidents.

Days later, senior White House officials sought to “lock down” records of the conversation by storing the transcript in a different, classified computer system.

“In the days following the phone I learned from multiple US officials that senior White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records of the phone call,” the complaint states.

“White House officials told me they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which transcripts are typically stored.”

An impeachment inquiry has been launched over allegations the US president pressured Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Mr Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and son Hunter over their Ukraine activities.

The whistleblower deemed the July 25 phone call of “urgent concern” and outlined details of the conversation and supporting information in nine pages of material.

The complaint said Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was a central figure in the alleged interference effort, and that US Attorney General William Barr also seemed to be involved.

It alleged that multiple US officials said Ukrainian leaders were led to believe Mr Trump would only talk to Mr Zelenskiy if the Ukrainian leader would “play ball”.

“I was not a direct witness to most of the events described,” the whistleblower’s report says.

“However I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”

Moments after the report’s release, acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee, saying it was a “unique and unprecedented” complaint.

The acting spy chief said if a president pressured a foreign government for help winning an election it would be “unwarranted”, “unwelcome” and “bad for the nation” but stopped short of saying it would be illegal.

Mr Trump reacted angrily to the ongoing furor engulfing his presidency, accusing the Democrats of being “fixated” on the issue and destroying the country.

He dismissed the official complaint as fake news and second-hand information before attacking whoever provided whistleblower information.

In comments, first reported by The New York Times, made to an audience of staff from the United States Mission to the United Nations on Friday morning, Mr Trump said the whistleblower was “close to a spy” and that “in the old days,” spies were dealt with differently.

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr Trump said.

“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.”

The content of the complaint had triggered weeks of controversy and prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump.

It also led to the president releasing a transcript of his phone call with Mr Zelenskiy in which he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden.

A federal law requires that the whistleblower’s report should have been sent to lawmakers after an inspector general determined it was urgent and credible.

Shortly before Thursday’s hearing, the intelligence committee’s chairman, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, announced it had received the declassified complaint and released it to the public.

“This complaint should never have been withheld from Congress. It exposed serious wrongdoing, and was found both urgent and credible by the Inspector General,” Mr Schiff said in a statement.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, assembling six House committees to investigate, after long resisting an uproar from Democrats in Congress.

Under the US Constitution, the House has the power to impeach a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Democrats control the House and Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate.

-with AAP