The Slatest

A Rough Estimate of How Many Government Officials Didn’t Blow the Whistle

Donald Trump on a Jan. 28, 2017 phone call in Washington.
Donald Trump on a Jan. 28, 2017, phone call in Washington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Thursday, Congress released the anonymous whistleblower’s complaint concerning the potentially corrupt nature of Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the circumstances surrounding it. The whistleblower alleges that Trump sought to pressure Zelensky into investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter—which, given that Biden is currently the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, means that Trump solicited “interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

One of the most astonishing details in the complaint is the fact that, according to the whistleblower, many officials in the White House and the State Department were privy to the call and the circumstances surrounding it, and apparently didn’t ring the alarm. The whistleblower notes that some of the officials voiced their concerns in private, and that others sought to “lock down” records of the call, which suggests they sensed that Trump’s conduct was improper.

We collected all references to other individuals in an attempt to conduct an extremely rough tally of the number of officials who, according to the complaint, likely had knowledge of the alleged misconduct and declined to speak up. In cases where “multiple” people were referenced, we conservatively accounted for two individuals. In cases where “several” people were referenced, we accounted for three.

• “Over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort.” ~6 people

• “Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests.” ~2 people

• “Based on my understanding, there were approximately a dozen White House officials who listened to the call – a mixture of policy officials and duty officers in the White House Situation Room, as is customary.” ~12 people

• “In addition to the White House personnel, I was told that a State Department official, Mr. T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, also listened in on the call.” 1 person

• “I was not the only non-White House official to receive a readout of the call. Based on my understanding, multiple State Department and Intelligence Community officials were also briefed on the contents of the call as outlined above.” ~2 people

• “In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced – as is customary – by the White House Situation Room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.” ~2 people

• “I also learned from multiple US. officials that, on or about 2 August, Mr. Giuliani reportedly traveled to Madrid to meet with one of President’s advisers, Andriy Yermak. The US. officials characterized this meeting, which was not reported publicly at the time, as a ‘direct follow-up’ to the President’s call with Mr. about the ‘cases’ they had discussed.” ~2 people

• “Separately, multiple US. officials told me that Mr. Giuliani had reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers, including Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan and Acting Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov. I do not know whether those officials met or spoke with Mr. Giuliani, but I was told separately by multiple US. officials that Mr. Yermak and Mr. Bakanov intended to travel to Washington in mid-August.” ~2 people

• “Around the same time, I also learned from a US official that associates of Mr. Giuliani were trying to make contact with the incoming Zelenskyy team.” 1 person

• “However, several US officials told me that, in fact, her [former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Louise Yovanovitch] tour was curtailed because of pressure stemming from Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations. Mr. Giuliani subsequently stated in an interview with a Ukrainian journalist published on 14 May that Ambassador Yovanovitch was ‘removed … because she was part of the efforts against the President.’ ” ~3 people

• “Starting in mid-May, I heard from multiple US officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.” ~2 people

• “State Department officials, including Ambassadors Volker and Sondland, had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to US. national security.” 2 people

• “During this same timeframe, multiple US. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired by Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Giuliani.” ~2 people

Adding up all of the definitive references, it looks like there may have been 22 officials with knowledge of the call and its aftermath. Including all of the additional references to multiple or several people, it’s possible the total is closer to 40 individuals. But the first reference in the complaint—that the whistleblower has talked to “more than half a dozen U.S. officials” over the last four months—seems like it ought to be interpreted as a top-line summary, meaning that it’s likely each subsequent reference to an official, or “multiple” or “several” officials, falls into that group of around 6 people. If that’s the case, the estimate would be closer to 22.

It’s certainly possible that there is some overlap in these estimates since the whistleblower only identifies three individuals by name. But it’s also possible that the total number of government workers with knowledge of these events is higher, as well, if the references to “multiple” and “several” are more than two and three. Either way, it’s a sobering look at how many people likely knew something was amiss and did nothing.