Revisiting The Whistleblower Complaint

Nov 3, 2019
Originally published on November 3, 2019 11:01 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry have moved well beyond the whistleblower's complaint, that nine-page document describing how President Trump blocked defense funding for Ukraine and asked for an investigation of a political rival. But President Trump is still talking about it, and he frequently mischaracterizes the complaint, as he did recently on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know why they don't need the whistleblower? - 'cause the whistleblower's account of my conversation was totally wrong.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith spent some time looking back at the complaint, and she joins us now to break it down.

Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's start with a fact-check. Was the whistleblower's account of President Trump's July 25 call, quote, "totally wrong"?

KEITH: No. It has largely been borne out by testimony, as well as the rough call log of that July 25 call that was released by the White House. In fact, in part, that's why Democrats have lost interest in testimony from the whistleblower. There are some words and phrases in there that President Trump can quibble with. It includes the word pressure. President Trump says he didn't pressure the Ukrainian president; he merely asked the Ukrainian president.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I guess that's the real subject of what this is about, right? (Laughter).

KEITH: Yes, exactly. So I did - I went through the whistleblower complaint this week and really dug into it and compared it to opening statements from witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, as well as that call log. And what I found is that the whistleblower's complaint holds up against what we've learned so far.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us a little bit about how it compares.

KEITH: Well, so the whistleblower wrote about people close to the president backchanneling on Ukraine policy. People involved in that backchanneling and those who experienced it have now testified that it was happening. The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is at the center of it all - he hasn't testified, but he's made numerous public statements that confirm a lot of the details.

Another thing - the whistleblower said that the former ambassador to Ukraine was recalled suddenly without explanation. She backed that up in her testimony. The whistleblower wrote that multiple officials were concerned about the president's call and that his desire to have the Bidens investigated was out of line with U.S. policy and interests. National Security Council official Alexander Vindman, who testified this past week, backed that up in an opening statement that was released the night before his deposition.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He'll tell congressional investigators today that he grew concerned after listening in on the president's July phone call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen.

KEITH: Vindman is one of several people who testified that the ask made of Zelenskiy by President Trump gave them pause. Lawmakers also heard from Vindman's boss, Tim Morrison, who confirmed that he, too, was uncomfortable with the ask and flagged it for National Security Council lawyers. But he said that he didn't personally think it was illegal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So a lot of people backing up what the whistleblower initially complained about. What else has been confirmed?

KEITH: Well, multiple people have testified to the accuracy of the whistleblower's allegation that funding for Ukraine was held up at President Trump's direction. And in fact, President Trump has publicly confirmed that himself. You know, the testimony indicates that there was an attempt to use both that funding and a possible Oval Office meeting between the two leaders as leverage to obtain investigations that President Trump wanted. Ambassador William Taylor laid that out in his testimony, and it was also on display in text messages between State Department officials that were released by Democrats who are leading the investigation.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor text the U.S. ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland and writes this - are we now saying that security assistance and White House meetings are conditioned on investigations? Sondland says, call me.

KEITH: And on that call, Taylor testified that Ambassador Sondland told him that President Trump wanted the Ukrainian president to publicly announce these investigations and that everything was contingent on such an announcement, including security assistance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Democrats are saying the case is being built pretty strongly, that this actually happened, that the whistleblower was correct. How is the president responding?

KEITH: Yeah, the thing is that the facts of this are not really in dispute. The issue, though, is what the facts mean. And the president is arguing...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's very 2019.

KEITH: It is. It is. And the president and his allies are arguing that he's the one who gets to decide U.S. policy. And if he thinks that what he did is in the best interests of the United States, then so be it. The president also keeps directing people - just go back, look at the call log or, as he has tweeted, read the transcript, which he said in an interview with The Washington Examiner. He's even considering reading it aloud himself like a fireside chat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Something to look forward to.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you very much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.