The White House has taken extraordinary steps over the past two years to block details of President Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders from becoming public, following embarrassing disclosures early in his administration that enraged the president and created a sense of paranoia among his top aides.
The number of aides allowed to listen on secure “drop” lines was slashed. The list of government officials who could review a memo of the call’s contents was culled. Fewer copies of transcripts went to agencies, and they were stamped with “EYES ONLY DO NOT COPY.” And some officials who deliver call memos had to sign for the records to create a custody record if they were to leak, according to people familiar with the moves who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe them.
At one point in 2018, Defense Department officials were asked to send back transcripts of calls to the White House after Trump aides grew worried they could be disclosed, according to former senior administration officials.
But the issue has come roaring back to life this week after a whistleblower complaint led the White House to release a rough transcript of a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has drawn allegations that Trump abused his position by pressuring his counterpart to investigate his political rivals and kick-started an impeachment effort by House Democrats.
While Trump approved the release of the rough transcript this week to combat the whistleblower’s allegations, he has once again charged that people with access to his calls are conspiring against him.
“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Trump told attendees of a private event at the United Nations on Thursday, according to audio of his remarks posted by the Los Angeles Times and confirmed to The Washington Post by a person in attendance. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”