Researching the Whistleblower Thing
This is not a political blog. This is my personal blog and I am a political person. I get frustrated with the way the media doesn’t tend to tell the whole story and I get frustrated with the way politicians twist the story to fit their narrative. I often end up diving down a rabbit hole of incomplete information to piece together a real story and I figure, I might as well share it when I do. I am really not trying to be partisan (though I am), I am just trying to understand and this is how I do it.
So here it is.
Basically, the story goes like this: Back in July, President Trump had a phone call with the new President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. During this call, President Zelensky indicated that he was really looking forward to continuing to receive the military aid (that the United States had recently stopped sending to the Ukraine) and President Trump said that he would like President Zelensky to cooperate with his personal lawyer and the United States Attorney General to investigate his (Trump’s) allegation that former Vice President Joe Biden (who is in the running to be the Democratic nominee to run against Trump in next year’s election) interfered with an investigation of a company that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter was running in the Ukraine.
An undisclosed member of the US Intelligence Community got wind of this phone call and submitted a whistleblower complaint to their superiors, in which many key details were not clarified. This complaint was irregular because the whistleblower process was created to police the Intelligence Community and had not been used on a President before so there was some confusion about how to proceed. Also, apparently the transcript of the call was placed in a top secret server rather than the usual server, so it was difficult to get the details. The complaint was not forwarded to the Congressional Oversight Committee assigned to Intelligence in the mandated 7 days, whether because of the confusion the irregularities caused or because of the attempt at a cover up, a hearing was conducted to determine.
Before the hearing was even begun, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, announced that they are going to begin the process of an Impeachment Inquiry, which is the first step in the Impeachment process.
There is a lot going on here so I’m going to break it down into bite sized chunks for myself and for you.
What was Actually Said in the Phone call
The official transcript of the phone call has been released. You can find it in various sources throughout the internet, but here is a link to it at the Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/official-readout-president-trump-s-july-25-phone-call-with-ukraine-s-volodymyr-zelensky/4b228f51-17e7-45bc-b16c-3b2643f3fbe0/
To me, there are a few interesting things here. Crowdstrike. A server. The Robert Mueller investigation…
Trump also says that Joe Biden bragged about interfering with prosecutions in the Ukraine and that they got rid of a “very good” prosecutor. Mr. Zelensky assures Mr. Trump that his new prosecutor will be 100% his person and he will have them look into it after their appointment in September (remember September).
Zelensky mentions that he talked to Rudy Guiliani. Why is he talking to Trump’s personal laywer. What’s that about? Hrm.
Zelenksy repeatedly brings up US aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. They agree that the US does more than Europe in both regards and that the US is just the most awesome best friend Ukraine ever had. He says he’s really looking forward to getting that aid. (It should be noted that the aid was held up, and was still held up in August https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/28/trump-ukraine-military-aid-russia-1689531 and lawmakers were expressing concern about it the first week of September https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2019/09/03/us-lawmakers-press-trump-to-release-aid-for-ukraine-to-fight-Russia/ and here is some more about that https://www.nationalreview.com/news/bolton-pushed-trump-to-release-ukraine-military-aid-in-july/ . The aid was finally released on September 11th after a 2 month hold.)
They also cast a bunch of shade on the Ukrainian ambassador, who is going to be replaced immediately with someone more loyal. Mr Zelensky wants more dirt on the ambassador, apparently to justify whatever action he’s going to take against her and tells Trump that he is the first person who said she was bad, but he agrees.
The entire exchange involves President Zelensky attempting to ingratiate himself to Trump, even mentioning that he’s stayed in Trump Towers in NY. Ugh.
I need a shower.
So I Looked Up this Ousted Prosecutor
The ousted Prosecutor who Trump hailed as “very good” was Viktor Shokin. He has a Wikipedia page, of course https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Shokin and you can read for yourself if you think he was “very good”.
Apparently Mr. Shokin inherited the investigation of Mykola Zlechevsky, the owner of Burisma Holdings, but hadn’t done any work on it. He was largely viewed as ineffective.
Did Biden brag about getting him fired? Apparently, he did. But not for the reasons Trump asserts https://www.cfr.org/event/foreign-affairs-issue-launch-former-vice-president-joe-biden
… And I went over, I guess, the 12th, 13th time to Kiev. And I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee. And I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t.
So they said they had—they were walking out to a press conference. I said, nah, I’m not going to—or, we’re not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, you have no authority. You’re not the president. The president said—I said, call him. (Laughter.) I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. (Laughter.) He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time…
And the Disloyal Ambassador
Okay, this is a bit confusing. It was difficult in context for me to figure out whether they are talking about the ambassador from Ukraine, or an ambassador to Ukraine. They use male pronouns yet reference a woman and the transcription mentions Ivanovitch. Whoever wrote all this down needs some grammar and spelling lessons (this being troublesome, is not the only problem. Punctuation is also nice.). The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May. We do not know why she was recalled in May. We do know that she criticized he former Ukrainian Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko for being soft on corruption and that the President Zelensky came into power in May.
I really want to know what Trump meant when he said “Well, she’s going to go through some things”. Cause that sounds really messed up.
During FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before congress regarding his investigation into the possibility of Russian interference, Schiff references Crowdstrike in relation to the leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized server.
Later in July and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on WikiLeaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. A leading private cyber security firms including Crowdstrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT 28 and APT 29 who are known to be Russian intelligence services. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/03/20/full-transcript-fbi-director-james-comey-testifies-on-russian-interference-in-2016-election/)
Is Trump seriously still looking for Clinton’s emails?
And Why Giuliani was Talking to Zelensky
In May of 2019, Giuliani first planned and then cancelled a trip to Ukraine to push for investigations that he believes will be politically beneficial to Trump. Huh.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor issued a statement shortly thereafter to say that Hunter Biden was not under investigation and was not accused or suspected of violating any laws in the Ukraine, but that he would be turning over information about Mr. Biden’s income to the US to make sure he’d been paying his taxes properly.
Giuliani did eventually meet with Ukrainian officials. In Spain. In August. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/21/us/politics/giuliani-ukraine.html
And How Presidential Phone calls are Recorded
According to a Tweet by Richard Haas https://twitter.com/RichardHaass/status/1176803212948582401?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2Fpolitics%2F2019%2F09%2F25%2Ftrump-zelensky-phone-call-presidential-conversations-recorded%2F2438667001%2F
“Transcript” wrong word to describe White House record of
call with Ukraine president. Traditionally such conversations are not recorded. What you tend to have is a memo prepared by a NSC staffer listening in that captures what he/she believes are main points.
So honestly, who knows what was said in that conversation, really? According to reports, it was a 30 minute call and the memo is only five pages long. I don’t think it’s 30 minutes worth of material.
USA today did an article about it and it’s really kind of disappointing. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/09/25/trump-zelensky-phone-call-presidential-conversations-recorded/2438667001/) Basically, the call summary can be completely rewritten by the President after the fact. It’s not an official record, just memory-jogging notes the President’s personal use, meant to include only what’s important for him to keep in mind for policy purposes going forward. Basically useless to anyone else.
That being said, there’s a lot in there that is shifty at best. If the President thinks that stuff is innocent and of no consequence, I feel it says a lot of disturbing things about his character.
What the Whistleblower Said
The unclassified complaint can be read at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/whistleblower-complaint-full-text-read-the-unclassified-version-of-the-whistleblower-complaint-against-president/
Aside from outlining the phone call itself and the concerns related to it, the Whistleblower also says that Senior White House staff put the call summary on lock down, hiding it in a special server for reserved for especially sensitive classified information instead of filing it in the usual way. They said that this was not the first time such a summary was stored in this way.
Why would they do that?
It also says that people were informed on the 18th of July (7 days before the phone call) that the President had ordered a suspension of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.
What is the Whistleblower Process and Why it Wasn’t Followed
Joseph Maguire, acting director of National Intelligence, was called in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee about a number of things related to the whistleblower process and why it wasn’t followed in this case. I listened to it in real time, you can read an annotated transcript here https://www.cbsnews.com/live-news/whistleblower-hearing-acting-intelligence-director-defends-handling-today-2019-09-26/
The first thing to understand is that the whistleblower process as it pertains to the intelligence community is in place to police intelligence agencies. It is there to prevent misuse of the system by allowing and encouraging people to speak up when they see corruption within the intelligence agencies. It has never been used against a President. There is not, apparently, a system in place for Presidents. Maybe there should be.
Traditionally, when the Head of Intelligence receives the complaint, it is turned over to Congress within 7 days. Officially that deadline is only in place when it is deemed “urgent” and “credible” but they just send them all in right away, regardless. This one was held for nearly a month. Congress wanted to know why and, in all fairness, the acting director was new on the job and this was a highly irregular situation. He agreed that it was urgent and credible, but he wasn’t sure if it fell under Executive Privilege and got confusing advice from the White House and the Justice Department, both of which were mentioned in the complaint. Ugh. I almost feel bad for the guy.
What does Joe Biden have to do with Ukraine
Joe Biden was heavily involved with Ukrainian relations in his position of Vice President. In addition, Joe Biden ‘s son, Hunter, was involved with an energy company in Ukraine. In 2014, while Joe Biden was Vice President of the United States, the sitting President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and a popular coup and the new government began sweeping anti-corruption reforms and investigations that would lead to the removal of many high level officials.
In April of that year, Russia took advantage of the upheaval and annexed Crimea. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine to show US support for the Ukrainian government. He would continue to visit often and helped to coordinate the current aid agreement to support Ukraine’s resistance against Russian military pressure. (Though we have been providing aid to Ukraine since the 90s (https://www.usaid.gov/ukraine/history). They were also working together to reduce Ukraine’s reliance on Russian oil, as Russia was really holding that over them.
In May of that year, Hunter Biden joined the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings at a salary of $50,000 a month! The company had ties with the recently ousted President, and the owner of the company was already under investigation for corruption. Hunter Biden’s appointment was questioned at the time, but the White House insisted it was fine (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/14/ukraine-biden-gas.html)
In December of 2015, Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Ukraining officials (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/09/remarks-vice-president-joe-biden-ukrainian-rada) encouraging more reform in the Office of the Prosecutor. It’s a super-long speech, so I’m just quoting what I believe to be the relevant bits, but I hope you will read the whole thing for context.
… And it’s not enough to set up a new anti-corruption bureau and establish a special prosecutor fighting corruption. The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform. The judiciary should be overhauled. The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles — not sweetheart deals. It’s not enough to push through laws to increase transparency with regard to official sources of income. Senior elected officials have to remove all conflicts between their business interest and their government responsibilities…
… Oligarchs and non-oligarchs must play by the same rules. They have to pay their taxes, settle their disputes in court — not by bullying judges. That’s basic. That’s how nations succeed in the 21st century. …
… The United States is with you in this fight. We understand we’re with you afar. It’s much harder for you than it is for us. We’ve stepped up with official assistance to help backstop the Ukrainian economy. We’ve rallied the international community to commit a total of $25 billion in bilateral and multilateral financing to support Ukraine. It includes $2 billion in U.S. loan guarantees and the possibility of more.
Yesterday I announced almost $190 million in new American assistance to help Ukraine fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law, implement critical reform, bolster civil society, advance energy security. That brings our total of direct aid to almost $760 million in direct assistance, in addition to loan guarantees since this crisis broke out. And that is not the end of what we’re prepared to do if you keep moving.
But for Ukraine to continue to make progress and to keep the support of the international community you have to do more, as well. The big part of moving forward with your IMF program — it requires difficult reforms. …
The Prosecutor mentioned in this speech was criticized by many members of the world stage and eventually submitted his resignation under pressure in March 2016. His office had begun an investigation of Burisma, but it had been dormant for some time before his resignation.
The investigation into Burisma, the company Hunter Biden was involved with, officially ended in January 2017, though there were reports that nothing was really ever investigated, even before Hunter Biden joined the company and Joe Biden visited. Hunter Biden left the company in April 2019.
You can see a timeline of all of this at https://www.businessinsider.com/timeline-trumps-campaign-pressure-ukraine-probing-biden-2019-9
And if you don’t like that one, you can find another at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-07/timeline-in-ukraine-probe-casts-doubt-on-giuliani-s-biden-claim
That all being said, Joe Biden did brag about getting that prosecutor fired, but he said it was because he was useless at getting rid of corruption, not because he was investigating corruption in inconvenient places. (of course he would say that). https://www.cfr.org/event/foreign-affairs-issue-launch-former-vice-president-joe-biden
Is this an Impeachable Crime?
I honestly don’t think this is the shadiest thing he’s done. It’s a lot of circumstance. It’s murkey. I think there are a lot of options for impeachment, for all the good it will do anybody because let us not forget that nobody who has ever been impeached has ever been removed. Or indicted. Let’s look at the precedents.
Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for violating the now defunct, but then brand new Tenure of Office Act. Johnson became president after Lincoln while everyone was arguing about how to go about reparations after the civil war. He did not agree with the Republican congress’s plan (neither did Lincoln). Congress passed a law called the Tenure of Office Act which made it basically illegal for the President to make any staff changes without Congresses approval, overriding Johnson’s veto. Johnson really didn’t like the Secretary of War he had inherited from Lincoln; Edwin M. Stanton, so he replaced him without consulting Congress. And they impeached him, but they were unable to remove him from office.
Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. It started with the investigation of an accusation of sexual harassment and an attempt by the prosecution to establish a pattern of behavior with women by asking questions about his alleged sexual relationship with an intern, which he denied against all evidence. He also attempted to influence a witness, advising her on alternative stories, giving her advise about concealing evidence, etc. He absolutely lied under oath and attempted to obstruct justice and he was impeached, but he was not removed from office. I don’t believe his crimes were ever properly addressed either.
Richard Nixon was notably not impeached in 1974 because he quite first. But he would have been impeached for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. It involved the theft of materials from the Democratic National Convention offices in the Watergate office park in Washington DC. Further investigation revealed wire tapping and other clandestine operations targeted at members of the Democratic Party. Nixon attempted to use the CIA to block the FBI from investigating the situation yet announced publicly that a thorough investigation had been conducted. Then he ordered a bunch of people fired, and a bunch of people quit. The Impeachment process was begun on the charges of obstruction of justice, contempt of Congress and abuse of power. But he quit, so they were dropped. And Ford pardoned him.
I really do believe that Trump has abused his power, obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses. They might have a good case for impeachment if they don’t just focus on this one issue; this isn’t even the most concerning of them and Nancy Pelosi’s focus on this one issue isn’t going to do them any favors. I do not think impeachment will remove him from office one way or another. And he’s never going see justice for any of these crimes. This I believe. It makes me a little sad, but mostly I’m over it. I’ve seen this movie before.