Trump was briefed on complaint before Ukraine aid released
27 November 2019, 18:44 | Updated: 27 November 2019, 22:48
The disclosure comes just days before the House Judiciary Committee takes over the impeachment probe.
US President Donald Trump was briefed on the whistleblower complaint about his dealings with Ukraine before the White House released nearly 400 million dollars (£310 million) in military aid to Kiev, officials say, shedding new light on events that triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Mr Trump was told about the complaint in late August in a briefing by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and John Eisenberg, an attorney with the White House National Security Council, according to two officials.
The lawyers told the president about the complaint, explaining that they were trying to determine whether they were legally required to give it to Congress, the officials said. The aid was released on September 11 amid growing pressure from lawmakers.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House has claimed there was no link between the military aid suspension and the president’s request for Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his family.
But it was his request to Ukraine’s president in a July phone call that prompted the government whistleblower’s complaint about a link.
The assertion of such a link has since been corroborated by a parade of witnesses testifying on Capitol Hill.
The August briefing with Mr Trump was first reported by The New York Times.
The disclosure comes just days before the House Judiciary Committee takes over the impeachment probe, scheduling a hearing for next week as it pushes closer to a possible vote on charges of “high crimes and misdemeanours.”
The judiciary panel scheduled the hearing as the Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released two last transcripts from its depositions, including from a White House budget official who detailed concerns among colleagues as Mr Trump ordered them, through intermediaries, to put a hold on military aid to Ukraine.
Mr Trump and his lawyers have been invited to attend the hearing and make a request to question witnesses, according to Democratic rules approved by the House last month.
The committee released a letter from committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, to the president, saying he hopes Mr Trump will participate, “consistent with the rules of decorum and with the solemn nature of the work before us”.
The White House said Wednesday no decision had been made on whether to send a representative.
“But what is obvious to every American is that this letter comes at the end of an illegitimate sham partisan process,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Mr Trump tweeted an image of his head superimposed on the muscular body of a champion boxer.
He regularly tells his supporters at campaign rallies and in videos that Democrats are “trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you and I’ll never let that happen”.
Several government witnesses testified in impeachment hearings held by the Intelligence panel this month that Mr Trump directed his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to take the lead on Ukraine policy and that Mr Giuliani pushed an “irregular” diplomatic channel.
The Intelligence Committee is wrapping up its investigative phase of the probe and preparing its report for the next.
Committee chairman Adam Schiff has said the report could be released soon after the House returns from its Thanksgiving break.