Not surprisingly, there’s quite a bit to chew on in the newly released complaint from the intelligence community’s whistleblower, but the revelations about an alleged White House cover-up are arguably the most serious. NBC News summarized what the public learned this morning:
The whistleblower says White House officials told them the conversation on July 25 between Trump and [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] was removed from the computer system that is typically used for such records of calls with foreign leaders.
Instead, the whistleblower writes, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is used only for information that is of an “especially sensitive nature.” One White House official described that as an abuse of the secure system because there was nothing “remotely sensitive” on the phone call from a national security perspective, the whistleblower said.
According to White House officials the whistleblower spoke with, that was “not the first time” the Trump administration placed a presidential transcript “into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive – rather than national security sensitive – information.”
The same whistleblower complaint said there was a “word-for-word transcript” of the call, which was among the records that Trump aides intervened to “lock down.”
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who routinely votes with the White House’s position, has already downplayed the significance of the broader scandal and has even suggested he wants to use his gavel to investigate Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 race.
But even Johnson isn’t fully comfortable with this detail from the whistleblower’s complaint [Update: see below].
“I would not be happy. We’ll find out exactly what transpired here. To me, of all this stuff, that’s the part that concerns me,” Johnson told Politico this morning. He added, “I was led to believe [that summary] was all that’s available. I would be a little upset to find out there’s a completely verbatim one.”
That, of course, is a thread worth pulling on. Indeed, if there’s a “word-for-word transcript” of the call, when will that be released? How much worse might it make the president look? Why was it hidden? At whose direction?
When yesterday’s rough transcript was released, the New York Times told readers the document was “developed with assistance from voice recognition software along with experts and note takers listening.” Of course, voice recognition software is dependent on audio, which further raises the possibility of recorded tapes.
To be sure, the version of the Trump/Zelensky conversation that the world saw yesterday was deeply unflattering – and it vastly increased the odds that the Republican will be impeached in the coming months. But there were curious ellipses in key sections.
If there’s a more complete and more accurate version of the phone meeting, circumstances suggest the White House has a responsibility to disclose it, too.
Update: It looks like Johnson changed his mind after making these comments, concluding, “My concerns were satisfied.”