President Donald Trump is pushing back against a damning whistleblower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine by falsely claiming the complaint has been debunked.
According to a CNN analysis, however, the overwhelming majority of allegations in the complaint have been corroborated by official government documents, Trump’s public statements, and news reporting.
The nine-page complaint is now at the center of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. It accused Trump of abusing his powers by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help his reelection by investigating former vice president and Democratic 2020 candidate Joe Biden. The whistleblower also alleged a White House cover-up designed to keep information about the effort, led in part by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, out of public view.
Trump has relied on lies and falsehoods to undermine the complaint. Trump said the whistleblower “knew almost nothing” and that the complaint was “almost completely wrong” and contained “totally inaccurate and fraudulent” information. These are among the nearly 20 times Trump claimed the whistleblower was inaccurate in the two weeks since the complaint was publicly released in September.
Here’s a breakdown of 14 of the most consequential claims in the complaint that have been proven true.
“I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”
This core claim has been confirmed. Based on Trump’s public comments and the White House transcript of his call with Zelensky, it’s now clear that Trump used his position to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden. If Zelensky bowed to this pressure, Ukraine would have been interfering in the 2020 election to help Trump win.
“The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.”
The whistleblower was spot-on about Giuliani, who has been transparent about his role and maintains he hasn’t done anything wrong. The whistleblower was less sure about Barr. Trump mentioned Barr on the Zelensky call, but the Justice Department said Barr didn’t learn about it for “several weeks” and that he never discussed Ukraine with Giuliani.
“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.”
The White House transcript of the call revealed that this is accurate. Trump told Zelensky: “There’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.” In addition, after the complaint was publicly released, Trump publicly asked Ukraine to investigate the Biden family.
“According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to … assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee and examined by the US cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike.”
The White House transcript of the call included Trump’s mention of CrowdStrike, which is at the center of a Trump-supported conspiracy theory about alleged Ukrainian meddling in 2016. Trump said: “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 … I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”
“According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to … 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.”
The White House transcript of the call revealed that this is accurate. Trump told Zelensky: “I 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. I’m sure you will figure it out.” (Trump has defended his conduct by pointing out that Zelensky was actually the one who first brought up Giuliani.)
“The President also praised Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Mr. Yuriy Lutsenko, and suggested that Mr. Zelenskyy might want to keep him in his position.”
The White House transcript of the call indicated that Trump and Zelensky indeed discussed the state of the prosecutor general’s office in Ukraine, though they didn’t name any names. It’s unclear from the rough transcript whether Trump and Zelensky fully understood each other, and Trump appears to have been referring to former prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
“ …senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced – as is customary – by the White House Situation Room … 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 …”
The White House acknowledged that transcripts of the call were moved into a highly classified system. It was classified, which is normal, but it did not contain any of the sensitive intelligence or military secrets that normally justify moving a document into the restricted filing system. A senior White House official said, “(National Security Council) lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately.”
“According to White House officials I spoke with, this was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive-rather than national security sensitive-information.”
CNN has reported that the White House took highly unusual steps to restrict access to transcripts of Trump’s conversations with two other world leaders: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s unclear if the White House moved these documents into the same highly secured classified system as the Zelensky call.
“On 26 July, a day after the call, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker visited Kyiv and met with President Zelenskyy and a variety of Ukrainian political figures. Ambassador Volker was accompanied in his meetings by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.”
“Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me by various U.S. officials, Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.””
Volker’s text messages indicated that he communicated with Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak about how to deal with Trump’s requests. They discussed how Zelensky could go about publicly announcing investigations into the Bidens, which Trump asked for during the call.
“… multiple US officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired by Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Giuliani.”
This general sentiment was corroborated by Volker’s text messages, which were released by House Democrats. Volker implied to a Zelensky aide that the new Ukrainian leader could secure an in-person meeting with Trump if he promised to investigate Biden. Volker said: “Heard from White House-assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!”
“On or about 29 April, I learned from US officials with direct knowledge of the situation that Ambassador Yovanovitch had been suddenly recalled to Washington by senior State Department officials for ‘consultations’ and would most likely be removed from her position … several US officials told me that, in fact, her tour was curtailed because of pressure stemming from Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations.”
Yovanovitch was called back to Washington earlier than expected, though the State Department said it was a routine transition. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump ordered Yovanovitch’s removal after complaints from Giuliani and others. Giuliani had shared – with Trump and senior State Department officials – negative and dubious allegations about Yovanovitch. During Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, he said Yovanovitch “was bad news, and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news.”
“On 18 July, an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official informed Departments and Agencies that the President ‘earlier that month’ had issued instructions to suspend all US security assistance to Ukraine.”
A Trump administration official confirmed to CNN that interagency meetings occurred on the two dates identified by the whistleblower. The official downplayed the significance of attendees not knowing why the military assistance was held up, because many were lower-level officials. But around that same time, lawmakers were also asking these same questions.
“During interagency meetings on 23 July and 26 July, OMB officials again stated explicitly that the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the President, but they still were unaware of a policy rationale.”
CNN confirmed that Trump asked acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to put a hold on the $400 million in military and security aid for Ukraine. Trump publicly confirmed that this happened. First, he said he wanted to “make sure that country is honest” before pledging US support. Then, Trump said he withheld the funds to pressure European allies to chip in more money.
CNN’s Giulia McDonnell, Olanma Mang and Michael Warren contributed to this report.