The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump says the whistleblower complaint isn’t accurate. The White House keeps showing how it is.

President Trump listens during a briefing in Washington on March 13. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

To hear defenders of President Trump tell it, the complaint filed by an anonymous whistleblower in August — a document that kicked off the week’s revelations about Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate a political opponent — is an inaccurate amalgam of secondhand rumors. A New York Post columnist compared it to the dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, citing the whistleblower’s use of hearsay evidence to draw conclusions and media reports to bolster what had been heard.

Trump himself, perhaps having seen that column or, more likely, having seen something on Fox News, tweeted a sweeping dismissal of the document.

The complaint, Trump wrote, was “all second hand information that proved to be so inaccurate that there may not have even been somebody else, a leaker or spy, feeding it to him or her?”

This is an unsubtle and obvious effort to encourage his supporters to adopt this new line of argument. It’s secondhand! It’s inaccurate! How can this be used to criticize Trump?

The answer is simple. Although much of what the complaint includes is indeed secondhand or based on news reporting, those are hardly disqualifying. The news reports are mostly citations of Trump’s mentions of the situation with Ukraine or references to Trump-friendly articles at the Hill. And those secondhand assertions in the complaint (read them here) that can currently be verified have been verified — by White House comments or in the rough transcript (read it here) of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Here is what the whistleblower complaint says about that call, compared with what the transcript itself says. Again: You can verify this yourself at the above links.

COMPLAINT: "Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests.”

TRANSCRIPT: Trump speaks in nine discrete segments.

  1. He congratulates Zelensky on winning the presidency.
  2. He says Ukraine is happy Zelensky won.
  3. He mentions how much aid the United States provides to Ukraine.
  4. He asks a favor: Investigate (baseless) rumors about Ukrainian involvement in an assessment of Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
  5. He encourages working with his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and pushes for an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son.
  6. He says he’ll have Giuliani and Attorney General William P. Barr call about the investigation.
  7. He invites Zelensky to the White House.
  8. He says he’ll see Zelensky at the White House or at an event in Poland (that he ended up not attending).
  9. He again offers his congratulations.

Except for the invitation to the White House — though even that is questionable — the whistleblower’s allegation is accurate.

COMPLAINT: “According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to … initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. …" (A different transliteration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s surname is used throughout the document.)

TRANSCRIPT: Trump says, "[T]here’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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

COMPLAINT: “ … assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike, which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016 …"

TRANSCRIPT: Trump says, “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.” (Ellipses in the original.)

COMPLAINT: “ … and meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.”

TRANSCRIPT: Trump praises Giuliani at one point, saying that “[h]e was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening, and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”

At another point he says he “will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to [have] Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.” At another point he says he “will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”

COMPLAINT: “The President also praised Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Mr. Yuriy Lutsenko, and suggested that Mr. Zelenskyy might want to keep him in his position.”

TRANSCRIPT: Trump talks about a prosecutor, but it’s not clear whether he’s referring to Viktor Shokin — whom Biden fought to get fired — or Shokin’s replacement, Lutsenko. Lutsenko, it’s worth noting, had helped propagate anti-Biden stories through the Hill.

“I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good,” Trump told Zelensky, “and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.”

“I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly,” he said at another point, “and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.”

By the time of this call, Giuliani and Lutsenko had met personally on multiple occasions, according to the whistleblower.

COMPLAINT: “Aside from the above-mentioned ‘cases’ purportedly dealing with the Biden family and the 2016 U.S. election, I was told by White House officials that no other ‘cases’ were discussed.”

TRANSCRIPT: The only other issue raised in the call was the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whom Trump removed. That subject was raised by Zelensky.

Those are all of the mentions of the call itself in the whistleblower complaint — all clearly and directly verified by the transcript that Trump’s White House itself released.

What has garnered more attention over the past 24 hours is another assertion made in the complaint.

“White House officials told me that 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 writes. “Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.”

On Friday morning, the White House provided a statement to CNN: That move did happen, at the request of National Security Council lawyers.

It’s sounding more and more as if the whistleblower is just as credible as the intelligence community’s inspector general, and a subsequent review by the Office of Legal Counsel determined him or her to be.