Senior White House officials tried to “lock down” all details of a phone call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president, according to a whistleblower complaint against President Trump.
In the call, Mr Trump pushed Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his leading domestic political rival, Joe Biden.
The newly released complaint says the call transcript was not stored in the usual computer system.
Instead it was stored in a separate system used for classified information.
Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat, announced on Tuesday that the party was pushing ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry against the Republican president, accusing Mr Trump of seeking foreign help in the hope of smearing Mr Biden and of using military aid to Ukraine as a potential bargaining tool.
Mr Biden is the leading Democratic presidential hopeful for the 2020 election.
Mr Trump has acknowledged that he personally blocked nearly $400m in military aid from Ukraine around the time of his conversation with Mr Zelensky, but denied that it was to pressure the Ukrainian leader into investigating Mr Biden.
The release of the whistleblower complaint came as US lawmakers on the House of Representatives intelligence committee began a hearing to question President Trump’s top intelligence official on the issue. Acting National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire had initially refused to share the complaint with Congress.
President Trump has dismissed the impeachment proceedings as a “hoax” and a “witch-hunt”, and angrily tweeted as the complaint was publicly released.
What does the complaint say?
The whistleblower’s complaint accuses Mr Trump of “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the US 2020 election”.
The now unclassified document says: “This interference includes, among other things pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals.”
The complaint characterises the president’s conduct as a “serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law”.
The alleged violation concerns President Trump asking his Ukrainian counterpart on 25 July this year to “do me a favour” by investigating unfounded allegations against Mr Biden – who was then leading the polls to become Mr Trump’s Democratic opponent in 2020.
Although Mr Trump did not explicitly give voice to a quid pro quo, he raised the issue of Mr Biden immediately after stressing to the Ukrainian leader that “the United States has been very very good to Ukraine”, and “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily”.
The whistleblower says in the complaint that they had learned from several sources that senior White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records of the call, particularly an official word-for-word transcript that is customarily produced by the White House Situation Room.
“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the whistleblower wrote in the complaint.
The whistleblower describes the system as a “stand-alone computer system reserved for codeword-level intelligence information, such as covert action”.
“According to information I received from White House officials, some officials voiced concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system and was not consistent with the responsibilities of the Directorate for Intelligence Programs.
The whistleblower adds that officials said it was “‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive – rather than national security sensitive – information”.
The complaint makes clear that the whistleblower was “not a direct witness” to most of the events described, but found their colleagues’ accounts to be credible “because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another”.