How the White House, DOJ learned about whistleblower
WASHINGTON — The White House and the Justice Department learned about a CIA officer’s concerns about President Donald Trump around the same time the individual filed a whistleblower complaint that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry, according to a U.S. official and another person familiar with the matter.
The details help flesh out the timeline of how alarm bells about Trump’s call with the Ukraine leader, in which he pressed for an investigation of a political rival, reverberated across the U.S. government and inside the upper ranks of its intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The details are fueling objections by Democratic lawmakers that the administration stonewalled them for weeks about the phone call and took measures to suppress it from becoming public.
The intelligence official initially filed a complaint about Trump’s Ukraine dealings with the CIA, which then alerted the White House and the Justice Department. On Aug. 12, the official raised a separate flag, this time with the intelligence community’s inspector general, a process that granted the individual more legal whistleblower protection.
At that time, the complaint filed with the inspector general — the report that was the focus of House hearings this week — remained private.
But information about the whistleblower was already making its way through the administration. On Aug. 14, A White House lawyer, John Eisenberg, and a CIA official alerted the head of the Justice Department’s national security division about the original complaint to the CIA.
John Demers, who has led the national security division for the past year and a half and was a senior official at the department during the George W. Bush administration, went to the White House the next day to review materials associated with the call.
In the following weeks, Demers had discussions with other Justice Department officials about how to handle the CIA complaint, according to the person familiar with the matter. It was during that period that the Justice Department also received a notification from the intelligence community’s inspector general about the whistleblower complaint.
The timeline raises questions about how the White House and the Justice Department handled that second complaint. The administration initially blocked Congress from viewing it, and only released a redacted version of the report to lawmakers this week after the House impeachment inquiry had begun.
The Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr was first notified of Trump’s Ukraine call in late August, weeks after it happened, when the department learned that the inspector general believed the conversation could have amounted to a federal campaign finance crime.
The attorney general is referenced repeatedly in the call. The president presses Ukraine’s leader to work with Barr and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate corruption accusations, repeated with no evidence, against Democratic rival Joe Biden. The Justice Department has said Trump has never discussed the matter with Barr.
Justice Department prosecutors reviewed a rough transcript of the Trump-Ukraine call and determined that no crime was committed.
The House intelligence committee released the whistleblower’s complaint Thursday.