Report Alleges Trump Knew About Whistleblower Complaint Before Releasing Ukraine Aid
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
What did the president know and when did he know it? One of the most famous lines to come out of the Watergate investigation is also a relevant question in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The New York Times has a story out this evening that offers more information about that. It alleges that President Trump knew about the allegations contained in a whistleblower complaint before he released hundreds of millions of dollars of military assistance to Ukraine on September 11. Joining us with more is one of the reporters on this story, Julian Barnes.
JULIAN BARNES: Thanks for having me.
CHANG: So according to the reporting of you and your colleagues, when did President Trump first find out about the whistleblower complaint? And just to remind people, this is the whistleblower who alleged Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine in order to pressure the Ukrainian president to conduct political investigations.
BARNES: We've known for a while that the White House learned about the complaint in early August, that the CIA's top lawyer had alerted the NSC, the National Security Council, lawyer.
CHANG: Right. That's the White House but not President Trump necessarily.
BARNES: Correct. What we didn't know is when did Trump himself learn about it? When did he learn that there was a complaint against him? And what we've reported tonight is that it was late August. It was pretty soon after the inspector general who had the complaint alerted the top intelligence officer, the director of national intelligence. So in late August, before the aid is unfrozen, before Mr. Trump talks to Gordon Sondland and says there is no quid pro quo...
BARNES: He learns there's a complaint against him.
CHANG: And do we know the specifics of what exactly President Trump was told? For example, was he told that the whistleblower complaint mentioned the hold on military aid?
BARNES: We don't know specifics, but we know a couple things about this conversation. We know that - at this point that the White House knows a lot of the details about what was - the staffers had raised his concerns in the call. They know that him - his mentioning of the investigations of the Bidens and Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 - election-meddling allegations. All that is in the grist for the mill. Also, while the whistleblower complaint doesn't make a big deal about the military aid, it does mention it. And so he is briefed on the outlines of that complaint.
CHANG: OK. Now, the House Democrats who are leading the impeachment inquiry have repeatedly pointed to what they say is suspicious timing, that the aid was released very soon after congressional committees were notified of the existence of the whistleblower complaint. Can you just fill in the gaps a little more for us? How does this reporting back up the Democrats' case?
BARNES: Well, it - Trump learns about this even before the House is notified that there's a complaint. Remember. They learn in early September that there is a complaint. They don't know what the contents of that are. Then in mid-September, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenas it and forces the fight that makes this come out. But Trump knows all the details of this two weeks before that, two weeks before...
BARNES: ...We and the rest of the world learn about this.
CHANG: And let me just jump in. What has the White House said in response to your reporting tonight so far?
BARNES: So far, there's no response...
BARNES: ...From the White House.
CHANG: All right. That's Julian Barnes of The New York Times.
Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
BARNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.