Obstruction of justice in plain sight: White House sought to withhold whistleblower complaint from Congress


I never cease to be amazed by the collection of unethical lawyers that Donald Trump has surrounded himself with over the years. He genuinely believes that his lawyers should be mob lawyers like his friend Roy Cohn, who was eventually disbarred for “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.″ We can only hope that Trump’s current stable of unethical attorneys face a similar fate.

The New York Times reports, Trump Knew of Whistle-Blower Complaint When He Released Aid to Ukraine:

President Trump had already been briefed on a whistle-blower’s complaint about his dealings with Ukraine when he unfroze military aid for the country in September, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Lawyers from the White House counsel’s office told Mr. Trump in late August about the complaint, explaining that they were trying to determine whether they were legally required to give it to Congress, the people said.

* * *

The whistle-blower complaint, which would typically be submittedto lawmakers who have oversight of the intelligence agencies, first came to light as the subject of an administration tug of war. In late August, the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, concluded that the administration needed to send it to Congress.

But the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, and his deputy John A. Eisenberg disagreed. They decided that the administration could withhold from Congress the whistle-blower’s accusations because they were protected by executive privilege. The lawyers told Mr. Trump they planned to ask the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they had to disclose the complaint to lawmakers.

A week later, the Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the administration did not have to hand over the complaint.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire decided not to forward the complaint to Congress after consulting with the Department of Justice.

But Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint being kept from Congress was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” a legal threshold that requires notification of congressional oversight committees. He sent two letters to Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee on September 9. Read what the inspector general said about the ‘urgent’ whistleblower concern.

The Inspector General’s independent action blew up the White House coverup of the whistleblower complaint. This explains why Trump Has Considered Firing Intelligence Community Inspector. Trump talked about dismissing Atkinson when the whistleblower’s complaint became public on September 9 and has continued to suggest his firing in recent weeks. Trump reportedly claimed to not know why Atkinson informed Congress of the complaint—even though Atkinson found the complaint to be credible—and insists the inspector general has been disloyal.

The Times continues:

Only days after the president learned of the whistle-blower complaint, he spoke with Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, about the aid holdup. Mr. Johnson sought permission to tell Mr. Zelensky at an upcoming meeting in Ukraine that Mr. Trump had decided to release the security assistance, according to Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Trump replied that he was not ready, Mr. Johnson said. He said he asked later on the call whether the aid was linked to some action that the president wanted the Ukrainians to take.

“Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed,” Mr. Johnson wrote in a letter this month to House Republicans.

Mr. Trump erupted in anger and began cursing, he wrote.

“‘No way,’” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Johnson. “‘I would never do that. Who told you that?’”

Trump having already been briefed about the whistleblower complaint puts this statement in its proper context: he was worried that members of Congress had been notified about the whistleblower complaint, despite White House attempts to coverup, and he wanted to know who told Congress. That only came later in September when Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson notified Congress.

Trump’s knowledge of the whistleblower complaint also explains his angry reaction to Ambassador Sondland in September:

[I]n early September, he told one of his top diplomats — Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, who helped carry out the shadow policy toward Ukraine — that he was not seeking “a quid pro quo” with the Ukrainian government by withholding the aid.

The “quid pro quo” comment was not prompted by anything Sondland said — he simply asked “What do you want from Ukraine?” — so it had to be a subconscience reference to the whistleblower complaint.

Mr. Sondland said that when he called Mr. Trump to inquire about why the aid had been withheld, an irritated Mr. Trump insisted he was not seeking anything from the Ukrainians. But the president said that he wanted Mr. Zelensky “to do the right thing,” Mr. Sondland testified to Congress last week, suggesting that he was still seeking the investigations into Democrats that could help his political fortunes.

There are discrepancies about whether Mr. Sondland spoke to the president on Sept. 7 or 9. The administration lifted the freeze on aid to Ukraine on Sept. 11, as lawmakers’ demands grew. Two days earlier, three Democratic-led House committees had opened an investigation into Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine [when they received the two letters from Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson].

Add this to the count for obstruction of justice in the articles of impeachment.