Justice Department national security lawyers were first alerted to the whistleblower complaint regarding President Donald Trump’s conduct involving Ukraine more than a week before the formal referral, officials briefed on the matter told CNN on Thursday.
The general counsel for one of the intelligence agencies alerted the national security division at Justice Department on August 14, as required under the agency’s rules, that they had received a complaint from an employee, the officials said. The New York Times was first to report the origin of the complaint.
The earlier disclosure of the complaint to the administration will likely raise more questions about the handling of the complaint and efforts by the administration to block Congress from seeing its details.
Justice officials were told the complaint had to do with Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The White House was also made aware of the complaint before the formal referral, according to The New York Times
Justice Department lawyers went to the White House to review the transcript of the call. They then alerted officials at the Justice Criminal Division and the Deputy Attorney General’s Office that Attorney General William Barr was mentioned on the call. Barr was informed later that his name was mentioned.
It would be over a week before the inspector general for the intelligence community officially referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Justice Department did not comment on this story when reached by CNN.
Justice officials previously have said that Barr was informed when the criminal referral was delivered in late August. They have said that Barr was minimally involved in the issue. The office of Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen oversees day-to-day management of the department and this case was handled that way, according to Justice officials.
Justice officials have said that Barr was informed of the criminal referral when it was delivered in late August.
The complaint — which was released publicly Thursday — has set off a politically explosive week in Washington.
The document alleges Trump abused his official powers “to solicit interference” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the upcoming 2020 election, and the White House took steps to cover it up. A reconstructed transcript of a July phone conversation released by the White House on Wednesday shows Trump repeatedly pushed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Before the whistleblower complaint was made available to lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced she was opening a formal impeachment inquiry into the President.
Trump has downplayed the significance of the complaint, claiming the whistleblower is partisan and his conversations with foreign leaders have been “appropriate.”
On Thursday, Trump said that anyone who provided the whistleblower with information is “close to a spy,” and said that in the old days spies were dealt with differently. The comments prompted a statement from three Democratic House Chairmen to stop his “reprehensible witness intimidation.”
The whistleblower has tentatively agreed to meet with congressional lawmakers, according to correspondence obtained by CNN.
The meeting could take place on the condition that acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire approves appropriate security clearances for the individual’s legal counsel so that they can accompany their client, the correspondence showed.
By Evan Perez and Paul LeBlanc, CNN