Nov 27, 2019

NYT: Trump was briefed on whistleblower complaint prior to releasing Ukraine aid

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

In late August, White House lawyers briefed President Trump on the now-infamous whistleblower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine, the New York Times reports, citing "two people familiar with the matter."

Why it matters: The report suggests Trump knew officials had raised alarms about his July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president two weeks prior to his decision to unfreeze military aid, which Democrats allege he was using as leverage to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

Between the lines: The bombshell report could undermine a key Republican defense used throughout the public impeachment hearing — that there couldn't have been a "quid pro quo" because the aid was ultimately released on Sept. 11.

  • House Democrats have long claimed that the aid was only released because Trump knew he had been "caught" after they launched an investigation in September into allegations that Rudy Giuliani was leading a campaign to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.
  • The revelation that Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint in August would bolster that argument. The Times reports that it's not clear how much detail White House lawyers went into when briefing Trump on the complaint.

The revelation may also shed light on why President Trump denied any "quid pro quo" involving aid and the investigations to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland — which, as the Times notes, came before the phrase had "entered the public lexicon" due to the Ukraine scandal.

  • Sondland is one of several witnesses who testified that he believed both a White House meeting and military aid had been conditioned on the announcement of investigations.
  • Sondland notably refused to say whether he believed Trump's assertion in a Sept. 9 phone call that there was no quid pro quo involving the military aid.
  • Days after reportedly learning about the whistleblower complaint, Trump also denied to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that there was a quid pro quo. Johnson said in a letter to House Republicans that Trump was "adamant, vehement and angry" when asked the question.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Go deeper: 2 budget officials allegedly resigned over handling of Ukraine aid freeze

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Sondland refuses to say whether he believed Trump denial of Ukraine aid quid pro quo

EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland refused to say during his impeachment testimony Wednesday whether he believed President Trump's assertion in a Sept. 9 phone call that there was no quid pro quo linking frozen military aid for Ukraine and a Ukrainian investigation into the Biden family's business dealings there.

The big picture: Sondland's conversation with Trump came just before he texted Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, that the president "has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind." Sondland testified that he was "just trying to convey what [the president] said on the phone."

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019

Highlights from Gordon Sondland's impeachment testimony

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday in one of the week's most-anticipated impeachment hearings.

Driving the news: In his opening statement, Sondland said that he worked with Rudy Giuliani "at the express direction" of President Trump on matters involving Ukraine.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 20, 2019

What Lindsey Graham said about a quid pro quo in October

Sen. Lindsey Graham told "Axios on HBO" last month that he'd be open to changing his mind on impeachment if he was shown Trump was engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine outside of the July 25 phone call.

Why it matters: Today, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland publicly testified in an impeachment hearing that a quid pro quo preconditioning a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into the Biden family's business dealings in Ukraine took place and "reflected President Trump's desires and requirements."

Go deeperArrowNov 20, 2019