For however “perfect” as he believed it to be, President Donald Trump‘s now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly raised concerns among administration officials as soon as Trump hung up the phone. As the Washington Post reported Thursday, however, that wasn’t the first time aides had raised objections about how the president was dealing with Ukraine. According to the Post, at least four national security officials were so “alarmed” by Trump’s apparent attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals that they “raised concerns” with National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg both before and immediately after Trump’s July 25 phone call. The officials “were not a swamp, not a deep state,” a former senior official told the Post—but were simply White House officials “who got concerned about this because this is not the way they want to see the government run.”
Concerns over Trump’s Ukrainian dealings both before and after the call were widespread even among Trump’s top advisers, the Post reports, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton and then-acting deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman. The alarm bells reportedly started going off after the abrupt ouster of former Ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch, and the Post notes NSC officials “were alternately baffled and alarmed” by the behavior of Rudy Giuliani, who pressed for Yovanovitch’s removal and very publicly declared his plan to press Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden. (In addition to the Biden conspiracy, Trump also “became increasingly focused” on baseless right-wing conspiracy theories regarding Ukraine’s supposed role in the 2016 election.) Worry among NSC officials escalated even further after U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland—who got his job after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration—declared that Trump had put him in charge of relations with Kiev. During a meeting with Bolton, then-U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Zelensky aides about corruption in Ukraine’s energy sector, Sondland “blurted out that there were also ‘investigations that were dropped that need to be started up again,’” the Post reports. “Bolton went ballistic” after the meeting, one official told the Post, and senior NSC officials “huddled” about their Ukraine concerns in the ensuing days. The senior officials also looped in acting U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor, whose ensuing explosive text messages with Sondland and Volker have since been publicly released.
For as concerned as officials already were about Trump’s Ukraine behavior, their concerns “soared” once Trump spoke to Zelensky. In line with previous reports, including the whistle-blower report, the Post notes that Bolton and other senior officials were being contacted “within minutes” of the call’s end by their subordinates expressing concern, and a rough transcript of the conversation was moved to a highly secure computer network meant for classified material “within hours.” “When people were listening to this in real time there were significant concerns about what was going on—alarm bells were kind of ringing,” one source told the Post. “People were trying to figure out what to do, how to get a grasp on the situation.” White House officials were reportedly seeking ways to officially report the conversation, the Post notes, which was made challenging by “the lack of a White House equivalent to the inspector general positions found at other agencies.” So they went to Eisenberg, who reportedly vowed to “follow-up.” It’s not clear that Eisenberg actually took any action, though—and his lack of any clear response, the Post speculates, could have contributed to White House officials’ decisions to share their concerns with the whistle-blower, a CIA employee who was first contacted by a White House official hours after Trump and Zelensky’s phone call. (It is unclear whether any of the officials who spoke with Eisenberg are the same ones who spoke with the whistle-blower.)
The reports of how acute the alarm was over Trump’s behavior within the White House ranks isn’t great for the president as he continues to downplay the allegations and insist he was in the right—and come as damning reports concerning his and Giuliani’s Ukraine scheming only continue to escalate. In addition to the fallout over Trump’s phone call, new reports this week have raised concerns about how the administration handled the freezing and reinstatement of aid to Ukraine—which could suggest the existence of a “quid pro quo”—with the Washington Post reporting Thursday that political appointees intervened to freeze the aid over the objections of career staffers, who feared the move would be “improper.” The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported Thursday that Yovanovitch was fired after pushing back against Giuliani’s rogue Ukraine operation, marking yet another bad story for the lawyer after his clients were arrested earlier Thursday.