At least four national security officials were so concerned by the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they shared their discontent with a White House lawyer both before and after President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s President, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing US officials and other people familiar with the matter.
The revelation of the discussions with National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg establish that US officials had delivered notable warnings through official White House channels even before Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that set off a whistleblower complaint.
CNN previously reported that unsettled aides also immediately began quizzing each other about whether they should alert senior officials who were not on the call – mainly those at the Justice Department, since Trump had invoked the agency’s boss, Attorney General Bill Barr, multiple times during the 30-minute talk.
According to the Post, officials were alarmed by the removal of then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in May, the promotion of Ukraine-related conspiracies from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and indications in White House meetings that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to deliver politically damaging information on former Vice President Joe Biden.
These concerns, the Post said, were amplified after Trump’s call with Zelensky. A transcript of their conversation released by the White House last month shows Trump repeatedly pushed Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Officials told the Post that shortly after the call took place, national security adviser John Bolton and other senior officials were being contacted by subordinates with problems about what Trump had said to Zelensky.
“When people were listening to this in real time there were significant concerns about what was going on — alarm bells were kind of ringing,” one person familiar with the sequence of events told the paper. “People were trying to figure out what to do, how to get a grasp on the situation.”
Bolton – who was fired last month – was among the officials who moved to obtain a rough transcript of the call that was already being “locked down” on a highly classified network, officials told The Post.
The order to move the transcript came from the White House’s national security lawyers to prevent more people from seeing it, people familiar with the situation previously told CNN. It also came after recognition the document would need to be preserved for legal reasons.
According to the Post, one official said Eisenberg would “follow-up” on the warnings he received, but it remains unclear if he took any action.
One person familiar with the matter told CNN it was possible Eisenberg ordered the call transcript placed into the codeword system after his initial call with the CIA’s top lawyer to “preserve” the record since he realized it could become a matter of a legal issue. But others familiar with the matter said the move came after officials became aware of the internal concerns and wanted to prevent additional people from reading the document.
CNN’s Pamela Brown, Jeremy Diamond, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.