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White House ‘tried to cover up Trump call’

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Whistle-blower says there was an attempt to 'lock down' records of phone conversation with Ukraine leader

WASHINGTON: The White House moved to "lock down" all records of US President Donald Trump's phone call seeking Ukraine's interference in the 2020 US election, a whistle-blower's complaint released yesterday alleged, in the latest explosive episode in the rapidly unfolding impeachment drama.

The top-secret complaint, declassified by the administration and released by Congress, caps a stunning week of revelations that have put Mr Trump in the sharpest political and legal jeopardy of his presidency.

White House officials told the whistle-blower they had likely "witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain" in the July call with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the document.

In the days that followed, "I learnt from multiple US officials that senior White House officials had intervened to 'lock down' all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced", the whistle-blower said.

Democrats have accused Mr Trump of a "mafia-style shakedown" of Kiev by urging a probe into his political rival Joe Biden - prompting the whistle-blower complaint and triggering a congressional impeachment probe.

The anonymous official presented the nine-page complaint on Aug 12 to the inspector general of the intelligence community, a Trump appointee who found it a credible and "urgent concern" and forwarded it to the acting director of National Intelligence, Mr Joseph Maguire.

But Mr Maguire at first refused to deliver the complaint to Congress, raising concerns from Democrats that members of Mr Trump's administration were improperly protecting him.

With the scandal swelling, the top Democrat in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accused Mr Trump of betraying his oath of office as she announced an official impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

Mr Trump has acknowledged that he urged Ukraine to launch an anti-corruption probe against Mr Biden, the former vice-president and potentially his chief rival in the 2020 presidential race, and Mr Biden's son.

He said he exerted "no pressure" on Kiev - a claim echoed by Mr Zelensky - and Mr Trump took to Twitter yesterday to attack what he called "the greatest scam in the history of American politics".

Critics said Mr Trump had held up US$400 million (S$550 million) in military aid to Ukraine, to be released on the condition that it investigate the Bidens.

The non-verbatim record of the call did not show Mr Trump explicitly tying aid to Mr Zelensky probing Mr Biden, and the White House said the complaint showed Mr Trump did "nothing improper".

"The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats," Mr Trump's press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.


As Washington digested the latest incendiary allegations, Mr Maguire was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee about why he originally withheld the complaint from Congress.

Mr Maguire told lawmakers that while he believed the whistle-blower had "acted in good faith" and followed the law, he withheld the complaint because the Trump call was subject to executive privilege.

But Democrats condemned the actions of the White House and Mr Trump as a cover-up.

"The President betrayed our country. And then he tried to cover it up," Congressman Mike Quigley tweeted in comments that were echoed by other lawmakers.

Some Republicans have also voiced deep concerns.

"There is a lot in the whistle-blower complaint that is concerning," House Republican Will Hurd said.

"We need to fully investigate all of the allegations." - AFP