Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump said Thursday at a private event in New York that the whistleblower whose complaint is at the heart of a controversy involving Ukraine is "almost a spy," reports the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

"Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call — heard something and decided that he or she, or whoever the hell they saw — they’re almost a spy. I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now."
— President Trump, via the Los Angeles Times

The LA Times later posted audio of Trump's comments from inside the room:

The big picture, per Axios politics editor Margaret Talev: Now and in times past, Trump has used language to suggest he wants to retaliate against people who don't do what he wants or question his actions.

  • By raising the complaint via an anonymous, statutory method rather than a media leak, the whistleblower seems to be trying to avoid some of the blowback experienced by past Trump enemies, like former FBI Director James Comey.
  • The whistleblower's anonymity keeps the focus on their concerns — and not on their background or intentions.
  • Not knowing their identity shields them from the full intensity of Trump's retaliation and forces Republicans and Democrats to take the complaint seriously.

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