Written by Michael S. Schmidt, Julian E. Barnes and Maggie Haberman
President Donald Trump had already been briefed on a whistleblower’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 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 revelation could shed light on Trump’s thinking at two critical points under scrutiny by impeachment investigators: his decision in early September to release $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine and his denial to a key ambassador around the same time that there was a “quid pro quo” with Kyiv. Trump used the phrase before it had entered the public lexicon in the Ukraine affair.
Trump faced bipartisan pressure from Congress when he released the aid. But the new timing detail shows that he was also aware at the time that the whistleblower had accused him of wrongdoing in withholding the aid and in his broader campaign to pressure Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to conduct investigations that could benefit Trump’s reelection chances.
The complaint from the whistleblower, a CIA officer who submitted it to the inspector general for the intelligence community in mid-August, put at the center of that pressure campaign a July 25 phone call between the presidents, which came at a time when Trump had already frozen the aid to the Ukrainian government. Trump asked that Zelenskiy “do us a favor,” then brought up the investigations he sought, alarming White House aides who conveyed their concerns to the whistle-blower.
The White House declined to comment.
The whistleblower complaint, which would typically be submitted to 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.