How a CIA analyst sparked an inquiry
One relatively junior staffer acted on info many knew
The lights are often on late into the evening at CIA headquarters, where a team of elite analysts works on classified reports that influence how the country responds to global crises.
In early August, one of those analysts was poring over notes of alarming conversations with White House officials, reviewing details from interagency memos on the U.S. relationship with Ukraine and scanning public statements by President Donald Trump.
He wove this material into a nine-page memo outlining evidence that Trump had abused the powers of his office to try to coerce Ukraine into helping him get reelected. Then, on Aug. 12, the analyst hit “send.”
His decision to report what he had learned to the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general has triggered an impeachment inquiry that now imperils Trump’s presidency.
As the impeachment inquiry entered a new phase of public hearings on Wednesday, the outlines of the case have been thoroughly established: Trump, his personal lawyer
Rudy Giuliani and two diplomats are alleged to have collaborated to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations to bolster Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and damage the prospects of his potential opponent in next year’s election, former Vice President Joe Biden.
To advance this hidden agenda, Trump and his allies orchestrated the ouster of a U.S. ambassador, the withholding of an Oval Office meeting from Ukraine’s new president and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.
It is not clear whether any of this would have come to light were it not for the actions of a relatively junior CIA employee, who is now the target of almost daily attacks by Trump and rightwing efforts to make his identity widely public.
Dozens of senior officials —including the national security adviser, the secretary of state and the acting White House chief of staff — were either aware of or involved in the Ukraine scheme and failed to expose or stop it.
Ultimately, it came down to a lone analyst, in a cubicle miles from the White House, drafting an unprecedented document in the detached manner he had learned in his CIA training.
“In the course of my official duties,” he wrote, “I have received information from multiple U.S. 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 U.S. election.”
This article is based on interviews with dozens of U.S. and Ukrainian officials, the whistleblower report, the White House call record and thousands of pages of impeachment hearing transcripts. Many officials and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Current and former officials familiar with the analyst’s actions said that he was daunted by the implications of his decision, both for the country and his career, and that he never contemplated becoming a whistleblower until learning about the nature of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
For the call, a handful of national security officials monitored the conversation from the Situation Room.
Notably missing were national security adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence and Fiona Hill, Trump’s top adviser on Russia and Ukraine, who had left her White House job days earlier.
The rough transcript of that call, which was released by the White House after the analyst’s concerns became public, shows Trump opening with congratulations on Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections, then transitioning swiftly into applying pressure.
“I would like you to do us a favor though,” Trump says, urging Zelenskiy to order investigations into a baseless claim that Kyiv is hiding computer equipment that would supposedly prove it was Ukraine, and not Russia, that hacked the Democratic National Committee’s network in 2016; and into a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, that had employed Biden’s son, Hunter.
The call is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, rising above all other allegations or evidence in significance, according to senior officials in the probe.
Several witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have said that Trump bears significant hostility toward Ukraine, stemming in part from the country’s role in exposing the financial corruption of his 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
The “blame Ukraine” idea gained additional traction after Trump hired Giuliani as his lawyer. The former New York mayor began scavenging the factionalized and often conspiratorial world of Kyiv politics for material that might be used to construct an alternate scenario of what happened in 2016 and help blunt the Mueller probe.
Giuliani’s activities became a source of concern to wary officials at the White House and the State Department in the early months of 2019, worries that intensified in May when U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was forced out of her position in Kyiv over baseless allegations against her and Giuliani seized on her ouster to declare that he would be pushing a new agenda in the U.S. relationship with
In May, Trump blocked a plan to send Vice President Mike Pence to Zelenskiy’s inauguration and instead dispatched a delegation that included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, a Trump megadonor with no diplomatic experience who had been named ambassador to the European Union.
The call ended at 9:33 a.m. Over the next 24 hours, a climate of fear and suspicion descended on the
White House, as officials who had either listened to the call or learned about it indirectly raised alarms with lawyers, senior officials including Bolton, as well as peers from the State Department and the CIA.
The day after Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy, the CIA analyst spoke by phone with a highly agitated official at the White House. The official was “shaken by what had transpired and seemed keen to inform a trusted colleague,” the analyst noted in a memo he wrote to record the conversation.
The analyst appears to have concluded almost immediately that he was obligated to act, but seemed unsure about how.
The report he finally submitted reveals aspects of how he went about assembling this file. Though triggered by the July 25 call, he made clear that it drew on information that had been shared with him “over the past four months” from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials.”
When the report was submitted on Aug. 12, it triggered a constitutional clash. White House officials fought for weeks to block the acting director of national intelligence from turning the complaint over to relevant committees in Congress, as required by law.
But the administration relented under mounting pressure, including demands by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and press reports including a Sept. 18 story in The Washington Post revealing that the focus of the complaint was a call that Trump had with a foreign leader.
Trump has waged a campaign to impugn the motives of the whistleblower, attacking him more than 50 times on Twitter and demanding that his identity be exposed.
But the events he set in motion, and the evidence now driving them, have moved beyond the complaint he submitted three months ago.
President Donald Trump has waged a campaign to impugn the motives of the whistleblower.
Mark Sandy, a career employee in the White House Office of Management and Budget, arrives at the Capitol on Saturday.