The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. 
Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty

Revelations bring Trump’s whistleblower scandal into sharper focus

Updated

There are still some key elements of the whistleblower scandal that are not yet publicly available, but after reading the Washington Post’s overnight scoop, the story is quickly coming into sharper focus.

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.

The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a “promise” that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said.

Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.

The New York Times also reported that the story involves Trump and Ukraine.

And if you’ve been following the news closely over the last few weeks, this doesn’t necessarily come as a major surprise. Trump, putting aside the Pentagon’s guidance, recently held off on delivering promised military aid to Ukraine, and according to the Washington Post, it’s because the American president hoped to leverage the aid as part of an extortion scheme: Trump reportedly told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that if his country wanted the military assistance, his country would have to assist the Trump campaign by investigating Joe Biden.

If you’re wondering why in the world Ukraine would have anything to do with the 2020 race in the United States in the first place, the New York Times published a curious article in May, raising questions about Joe Biden’s work several years ago on a government-reform effort in Ukraine. There was some suggestion that the Delaware Democrat’s son may have benefited, but the claims of possible wrongdoing quickly unraveled, and the story went largely overlooked.

Trump and his team, however, believe that if they dig hard enough on this, there may be some dirt they could use.

It’s against this backdrop that Trump reportedly made a “promise” that centered on Ukraine that was so provocative that a U.S. intelligence official filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community.

The Trump administration is now hiding that complaint from Congress, defying legal disclosure requirements.

To be sure, none of the latest reporting on the scandal has directly linked Trump’s controversial “promise” and his purported efforts to shake down the new Ukrainian president, but to understand the context of the developments, it’s important to keep both stories in mind.

Alas, that’s not the only angle of note in this fast-breaking story. As Rachel explained on the show last night, Trump’s Justice Department, for reasons unknown, has been brought into the process and is arguing that the whistleblower complaint isn’t a real whistleblower complaint, so the administration is justified in ignoring disclosure laws.

What’s more, CNN has reported that the White House itself is involved in the handling of the whistleblower complaint, which seems inherently indefensible, since the complaint directly implicates the president.

For his or her part, the whistleblower has hired a powerhouse attorney who specializes in whistleblower protections, which was probably a good idea given the possibility of reprisals against the person who filed the complaint related to Trump’s alleged misconduct.

Watch this space.