A copy of the whistleblower’s report to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community was released this morning. I don’t have a lot to add beyond the analyses that are circulating around various media outlets, but there is one point that I think is worth highlighting that maybe isn’t yet getting the attention it deserves.
The bulk of the story focuses on President Trump’s apparent efforts to leverage access and US military aid to get Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The report itself is impressive insofar as it details a more protracted, and broader, effort to manipulate Ukrainian officials into investigating one of Trump’s primary domestic political rivals, and to cover up evidence of this effort, than we previously understood. Beyond President Trump, the complaint possibly implicates several senior White House officials, the Attorney General, and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Don’t get me wrong—this is all clearly very bad. However, the part of the complaint that really jumped out to me was a small bit in the attached appendix at the end of the document concerning the use of NSC servers to hide records of the President’s phone calls on other occasions. The whistleblower’s report states that:
According to multiple White House officials I spoke with, the transcript of the President’s call with President Zelenskyy was placed into a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council (NSC) Directorate for Intelligence Programs. This is a standalone 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. According to White House officials I spoke with, this 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. (Emphasis Added)Appendix, Page 1: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html
It’s not clear from the content of the report whether the other instances where White House staff used these secure systems to hide exchanges between the President and other foreign officials also pertain to the efforts directed at Ukraine, or are perhaps unrelated. Regardless, the fact that senior White House officials took such extreme steps to hide information suggests that this is only the beginning, and if the current situation is any guide, then something pretty damning has to be in those records. How and when this information comes to light obviously remains to be seen, but I suspect this is going to raise many more questions concerning how the President has used his office for personal political gain, and the implications of those efforts for US national security. I’m not an expert on these particular computer systems by any means, but it also raises questions regarding the use of said systems—who is authorized to use them? Which, if any, senior White House officials have the power to authorize the transfer of date to these systems? Or is presidential authorization required?