President Donald Trump said Thursday that whoever provided the whistleblower with information about his call with the Ukrainian President is “close to a spy,” adding that in the old days spies were dealt with differently.
The comments, first reported by The New York Times, were made to an audience of career foreign service officers who work at the United Nations, two sources who were in the room and one person who knew someone in the room said. One source said the remarks were “shocking” and “eerie.”
Other top US government officials were in the room as well, including the new US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft.
“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said, according to the Times, which cited a person briefed on what occurred who had notes of what the President said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
Not everyone in the room opposed Trump’s comments. US Mission to the United Nations employees could invite their friends or family to the event and most of the people who accepted such an invite were Trump supporters who were not startled by Trump’s threatening tone, another source said.
Earlier Thursday, a stunning whistleblower complaint alleged Trump abused his official powers “to solicit interference” from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and the White House took steps to cover it up. Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire also testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the whistleblower complaint.
The identity of the whistleblower remains publicly unknown, but his or her safety was raised at Maguire’s testimony.
“And of course, you will do anything you can to protect the whistleblower from any attempts to retaliate against him or her, correct?” Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois asked.
“I will not permit the whistleblower to be subject to any retaliation or adverse consequences for going to the IG. I am absolutely committed to that,” Maguire replied.
Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who is now a CNN contributor, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar following the Times’ report that Trump’s implicit threat is “exactly what government officials are not supposed to do.”
“He’s clearly targeting the person who’s filed this complaint that affects him seriously and is kind of laying the marker down that he wants this person’s identity and he wants to be able to follow-up on this. So absolutely a total contravention of all the protections for whistleblowers,” said McCabe, who added that Trump’s comments in front of US government employees suggests a message to others who might come forward with damaging information in the future.
“So you have to ask, was this some sort of a message to all of those folks and indeed a message to all people serving in the government that if they step forward with complaints, they can expect the President to come after them?”
Whistleblower’s bombshell allegation
Several White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and tried to “lock down” all records of the phone call, especially the word-for-word transcript produced by the White House, the complaint states.
The complaint has been at the center of a controversy that has spurred Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. The White House on Wednesday also released a rough transcript of the call that shows Trump repeatedly pressed Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Caving to Democratic demands, the Trump administration let Congress release a declassified version of the complaint, one day after releasing a rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call. The developments triggered a flood of Democratic lawmakers to publicly support impeachment.
Trump has maintained that he didn’t do anything wrong, while simultaneously promoting unfounded conspiracy theories about the Bidens, Ukraine, and Russian meddling in 2016.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
CORRECTION: This story’s headline has been updated to correctly identify to whom President Donald Trump was referring.