Whistleblower Says White House Took Unusual Steps to Limit Access to Ukraine Call Record

In addition to what was said during a phone conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the whistleblower was also concerned about how the record of the phone call was handled by the White House. 

According to a person familiar with the content of the complaint who spoke to Just Security, when the call was over, senior White House officials pulled the verbatim transcript out of the system that it is traditionally stored on and moved it into a separate system reserved for extremely sensitive/highly compartmented programs. 

This person said that the call between the two leaders had nothing to do with highly classified programs. But, by moving it into this separate system, the White House could control who could see the transcript: only a very small group of people. 

Reporting by the Washington Post on Wednesday night included similar details:

The complaint also alleges a pattern of obfuscation at the White House, in which officials moved the records of some of Trump’s communications with foreign officials onto a separate computer network from where they are normally stored, this person said. The whistleblower alleges that is what officials did with Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, an action that alarmed the intelligence community inspector general and prompted him to request that the White House retain records of the Zelensky call, the person who read the complaint said.

Former National Security Council and Justice Department officials said this could suggest the White House was trying to hide what Trump said to Zelensky, as it would be extremely unusual to store it in the system reserved for code word programs, unless there was a genuine concern that the conversation included this kind of sensitive, classified material. 

By statute, the director of national intelligence (DNI) was required to send the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress once the Intelligence Community inspector general (ICIG) determined it was a credible, “urgent concern,” which meant that it was “related to an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information.” 

After the ICIG shared the complaint with the DNI, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel got involved and took the view that the substance of the phone call itself did not relate to intelligence activity within the DNI’s authority. However, these new details suggest the whistleblower’s complaint raised issues that could be considered within the DNI’s purview: classification and intelligence record keeping.  

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).