Dispatch September 27, 2019

How Donald Trump tried to cover up his extortion campaign against Ukraine

Donald Trump has allegedly been running an extortion campaign against Ukraine and a complex cover-up to keep the public in the dark about his shocking abuse of power. The whistleblower complaint and the Acting DNI’s testimony indicate that there was a clear playbook for how to obscure Trump’s actions—and pressure Ukraine to go along with Trump’s version of events.

Even as they scrambled to cover up, the Trump administration doubled down on their efforts to pressure Ukraine; indeed, they appeared to continued even through this week.

The Abuse: Use taxpayer money to extort Ukraine into using the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate his future potential opponent.

The Cover-Up, Step 1: Use the powers of the White House to bury the information, making it Top Secret.

  • Per the whistleblower, the White House had an established practice to place information that was embarrassing or politically damaging to the President on a Top Secret, highly classified, code-word-only accessed White House system. That’s exactly what happened with the transcript of this call.
    • “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.”
  • Per the whistleblower, the transcript was placed in classified network that is the most tightly controlled of four different networks that the National Security Council staff uses; it’s so secretive that even top White House national-security aides don’t have regular access.
  • The system is managed by the NSC’s Directorate of Intelligence Programs and can only be accessed by individuals who have “code word” access to specific programs that the intelligence is related to.
    • According to the whistleblower, “One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” Rather, it was sensitive personally and politically for Trump.
  • White House lawyers reportedly made the decision to bury the information, an allegation levied by the whistleblower and confirmed to CNN by the White House.
    • These lawyers are government employees who work for the American people and represent the office of the president, and they should not be engaged in a personal and political cover up for Trump.

The Cover-Up, Step 2: Offer to deploy his Attorney General to provide cover and help keep the secret.

  • The whistleblower implicates Attorney General Barr directly, saying “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 […] The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.”
  • Per the readout of the July call, Trump offered Barr’s help to advance the investigations that they wanted Ukraine to pursue.
  • The whistleblower also points out that on Fox News, “Giuliani claimed that Mr. John Durham, whom Attorney General Barr designated to lead this probe, was ‘spending a lot of time in Europe’ because he was ‘investigating Ukraine.’”
  • CNN reported that the Justice Department was alerted to the whistleblower complaint more than a week before the formal referral, raising more questions about why Congress wasn’t made aware of the complaint.
  • Barr also may have been involved with the initial attempt to withhold the full whistleblower complaint from lawmakers, as the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel originally did not want to release the complaint to Congress. Barr denies being asked to investigate Biden.
  • Barr has already been working hard to cover up Trump’s other alleged misdeeds. In May, he opened an investigation into the “origins” of the Russia investigation.

The Pressure Campaign: Double down and deploy a pressure campaign to publicly force Zelensky into agreeing with Trump’s side of events.

  • In his first face-to-face meeting with Zelensky on Wednesday, Trump stated that “there was no pressure” on Zelensky.
  • Zelensky agreed with Trump, who was sitting right next to him, saying “Nobody pushed me.”
  • Zelensky also called the phone call “normal.”
    • Normal? Zelensky made sure to mention that he had stayed in Trump Tower the last time he came to the U.S. That doesn’t sound normal, it sounds like a call where a desperate Zelensky lavished praise on someone withholding $250 million in military aid.
  • A former Zelensky advisor has also indicated that there was pressure around the Trump-Zelensky meeting.
    • The advisor stated that Ukrainian officials understood that “Trump [wanted] to meet only if [the] Biden case [would] be included.”

Deploying (or offering to deploy) state power—including US intelligence tools and his Justice Department and Attorney General—to advance a cover up for the president is unacceptable abuse. We need to know what else was furtively stored on the classified server—was other corrupt behavior swept under the rug?