Whistleblower alleges White House coverup

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Amanda Wills, Mike Hayes and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:37 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019
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1:04 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Rep. Adam Schiff: "There were efforts made to conceal this scheme"

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Adam Schiff, speaking to reporters moments after the House Intelligence Committee hearing, said the whistleblower complaint shows that "there were efforts made to conceal this scheme."

"It's hard to imagine a more serious set of allegations than those contained in the complaint," Schiff said.

Schiff, who chairs the committee, said he is concerned about the breakdown of the whistleblower system.

"We are profoundly concerned with the breakdown of this whistleblower system that has been manifested over the last month, that a whistleblower who was deemed credible, who had a complaint that was deemed urgent, that a complaint that had to come to Congress would be held in Congress, and would be withheld on the basis of advice given by the subject or subjects of that complaint," Schiff said.

He continued: "The conflict of interest is all too apparent, all too palpable. It is indeed a minor miracle that we got the complaint at all and that we got the transcript at all. At the end of the day."

1:10 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Trump attacks House Intel chair's credibility. Here's how he responded.

Trump tweeted today that Rep. Adam Schiff's has "zero credibility."

Schiff was asked by reporters to respond to the tweet, he said, "I'm always flattered when I'm attacked by someone of the President's character."

12:53 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

House intel chair: We're bringing in the whistleblower

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he plans to bring in the whistleblower to testify.

"We're obviously going to be bringing the whistleblower in," he said.

Some background: The anonymous whistleblower who filed a complaint with the intelligence community inspector general, which includes allegations about President Trump's conduct, has tentatively agreed to meet with congressional lawmakers, according to correspondence obtained by CNN.

12:50 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Acting DNI Maguire just arrived for the closed-door briefing 

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire just arrived for a closed-door briefing with the Senate Intelligence Committee on his handling of the whistleblower's complaint. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson is also expected to testify.

The acting DNI spent the morning testifying in a public hearing with members of the House Intelligence Committee, which started just moments after a whistleblower's complaint against President Trump was released.

The whistleblower's complaint alleges that President Trump abused his office to "solicit interference" from the president of Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election -- and that the White House helped cover it up.

12:44 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Larry Kudlow says he's "unaware" of separate system for calls with world leaders

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Larry Kudlow, the President's chief economic adviser, said that he is “unaware” of a separate electronic system for calls with world leaders and the process for the Ukraine call was the “same that it always is.”

"I am unaware about the separate electronic system, ok. You know, that comes out of the situation room. From what I heard, before the complaint was published, by some of colleagues, was that the answer is no. That it was the same that it always is," Kudlow told reporters today.

Why this matters: A whistleblower complaint, which was released this morning, states White House lawyers directed officials to remove a transcript of President Trump's call with the Ukrainian leader from a computer system that stores them for Cabinet-level officials and instead put the transcript in a system for especially sensitive information.

This move concerned some officials, who shared their worries internally that this was an "abuse of the system."

The whistleblower said they heard from other White House officials that this was "not the first time" that the Trump administration used this storage system to hold politically sensitive documents. The codeword-level system is meant to hold files of national security importance.

12:37 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Behind the decision to release the whistleblower complaint

From CNN's Dana Bash

After hearing from aides, allies on Capitol Hill and friends, President Trump realized he had no choice but to release the complaint, according to sources familiar.

If he didn’t, the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill would get pounded for stonewalling, and it would likely happen eventually anyway, the sources said. Details would also continue to leak, as they already began to do when the complaint was still classified Wednesday, the sources added.

Adding to the pressure was a rare bipartisan vote in the Republican-led Senate calling on the administration to turn over the whistleblower complaint to intelligence committees.

12:36 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Trump campaign calls whistleblower complaint a "hoax"

The Trump campaign just released a statement regarding today’s House Intelligence hearing, calling the whistleblower complaint “an even bigger hoax than the Russian delusion.”

"This whistleblower complaint is an even bigger hoax than the Russia delusion," spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said in the statement. "It’s built on second-hand information echoed by the biased fake news media. We now know that this account was cobbled together by a partisan bureaucrat with 'no direct knowledge,' represented by an attorney for Hillary Clinton and donor to Joe Biden’s campaign. Democrats are trying to block the inevitable re-election of President Trump because they know they can’t beat him fair and square at the ballot box. "

What we know about the complaint: According to the complaint, which was released this morning, President Trump abused his official powers "to solicit interference" from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and the White House took steps to cover it up.

The complaint also states that several White House officials were "deeply disturbed" by Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and tried to "lock down" all records of the phone call, especially the word-for-word transcript produced by the White House.

12:35 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

Fact check: GOP congressman's rationale for why Trump’s call with Zelensky was perfectly normal

THE HEARING / From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In his comments during Thursday’s House Intelligence hearing, Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe suggested that President Trump’s actions during his call with Ukrainian President Zelensky were fully above board and referred to them as “legal communications.”

Though the rationale he provided for that conclusion is misleading.

During his comments, Ratcliffe claimed that “The United States is allowed to solicit help from a foreign government in an ongoing criminal investigation, which is exactly what President Trump did in that conversation.”

However, the two investigations mentioned in the call had been terminated long before July 25, 2019, when the call occurred.

During the call, President Trump referenced two investigations:

  1. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential election
  2. Ukraine’s investigation into the owner of Burisma Holdings, a company for which Hunter Biden had sat on the board of directors.

President Trump further asked Zelensky to “find out” about “talk” that former vice president Joe Biden had “stopped the prosecution.”

Back when he was vice president, Biden had indeed called for the firing of the prosecutor overseeing the Burisma investigation, but not for any end to the investigation itself. Biden’s push against the prosecutor was based on several allegations of corruption and part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to fight corruption in Ukraine. 

Burisma said all investigations against the company were closed as of 2017 and Special Counsel Mueller submitted his report on March 22, 2019, signaling the end of that investigation.

12:29 p.m. ET, September 26, 2019

The hearing is over. Here's what you need to know.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee just wrapped.

The hearing started just moments after a whistleblower's complaint against President Trump was released. The complaint alleges that Trump abused his official powers "to solicit interference" from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and the White House took steps to cover it up.

Here's what we learned at the hearing:

  • On the timing of the complaint: Maguire said the whistleblower's complaint centered around a phone call between President Trump and a foreign leader — a kind of conversation that is "typically subject to executive privilege." That's why he didn't release it earlier.
  • On the whistleblower's motives: Maguire said he believes both the whistleblower who filed the complaint against President Trump and the inspector general who handled it "acted in good faith."
  • On the nature of the complaint: The acting spy chief said the case that they're discussing today is "unique and unprecedented" compared to other whistleblower cases he is aware of.
  • On the whistleblower's identity: Maguire said he doesn't know who the whistleblower is. Trump never asked him to find out the identity of the whistleblower, he said.
  • On protecting elections: Maguire said "the greatest challenge" the intelligence community has right now is maintaining "the integrity of our election system."
  • On foreign help in elections: The spy chief said that if a president pressured a foreign government for help winning an election, it would be “unwarranted,” “unwelcome” and “bad for the nation" — but he did not say if it was illegal.