New York: White House officials sought to restrict access to the transcript of a phone call between Donald Trump and the leader of Ukraine during which the United States president sought help from Ukraine against a rival in the 2020 election, a whistleblower said in a complaint released on Thursday.
"I have received information from multiple US government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election," the whistleblower, an unidentified intelligence community official, wrote in the complaint released by Congress.
The whistleblower said White House officials had expressed alarm about the gravity of Trump's call with his Ukrainian counterpart, and that they told the whistleblower that they had likely "witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain."
"In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple US officials that senior White House officials had intervened to 'lock down' all records of the phone call," the whistleblower said.
"This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call," the whistleblower said in the complaint, which he or she described as a matter of "urgent concern".
"White House officials told me they were 'directed' by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to Cabinet-level officials," the whistleblower added.
In the transcript of the phone call released by the White House on Wednesday, Trump repeatedly asks the Ukrainian leader to help with an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry to remove the president from office for abuse of power.
White House's Response
However, the White house claims the intelligence whistleblower's complaint about Trump's efforts to seek dirt from Ukraine on Biden "shows nothing improper".
Press secretary Stephanie Grisham argued the complaint "is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings". She added that Trump released a rough transcript of his call with Zelenskiy "because he has nothing to hide".
House Democrats who have read the document said it's "deeply disturbing."
"The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats and many in the mainstream media," said Grisham.
Democrats have accused Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election next year, of soliciting Ukraine's help to smear Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, before the 2020 election.
"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great," Trump said in the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the summary provided by the Justice Department.
"Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. ... It sounds horrible to me," Trump said, according to the memo.
The call occurred after Trump had ordered the US government to freeze nearly $400 million in American aid to Ukraine. The administration later released the aid.
Meanwhile, Trump maintained that he had exerted "no pressure" on Ukraine as the White House released a call transcript confirming he had asked Kiev to probe his political rival Joe Biden.
"There was no pressure whatsoever," Trump told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, a day after Democrats seized on the explosive call to launch an impeachment process.
"It was a friendly letter, there was no pressure," Trump repeated, denouncing what he called "the single greatest witch hunt in American history."
The House inquiry could lead to articles of impeachment in the House that could trigger a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.
Trump told Zelenskiy that Attorney General William Barr, the top US law enforcement official, would reach out to him about re-opening the investigation into the Ukrainian gas company.
But Trump did not ask Barr to contact Ukraine, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said, and Barr has not communicated with Ukraine about a possible investigation or any other subject. Barr, a Trump appointee, first found out about the conversation several weeks after it took place, Kupec said.
Trump told Zelenskiy to speak with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a political ally who has no formal role in the US government. Zelenskiy said one of his assistants had already spoken with Giuliani and that they looked forward to another meeting when the former New York mayor came to Ukraine, according to the summary of the call.
Trump has withstood repeated scandals since taking office in 2017. House Democrats had considered, but never moved ahead with, pursuing articles of impeachment over Trump's actions relating to Russian interference in the 2016 US election aimed at boosting his candidacy.
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 currently control the House and Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate....