Absolute perfidy. Why is the Senate giving this treasnous farce, this coup, the imprimatur of legitimacy? They should vote to dismiss.
Photo: Eric Ciaramella, right. He and a colleague, Sean Misko, below — both now central to impeachment — were Obama administration holdovers (whitehouse.gov).
‘Whistleblower’ Eric Ciaramella Was Overheard in 2017 Discussing With Ally Sean Misko How to Remove President Trump From Office
Barely two weeks after Donald Trump took office, Eric Ciaramella – the CIA analyst whose name was recently linked in a tweet by the president and mentioned by lawmakers as the anonymous “whistleblower” who touched off Trump’s impeachment – was overheard in the White House discussing with another staffer how to remove the newly elected president from office, according to former colleagues.
By Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigations, January 22, 2020Sean Misko: He spoke with Ciaramella about the need to “take out,” or remove, President Trump. Later he went to work for Rep. Adam Schiff’s committee.
Sources told RealClearInvestigations the staffer with whom Ciaramella was speaking was Sean Misko. Both were Obama administration holdovers working in the Trump White House on foreign policy and national security issues. And both expressed anger over Trump’s new “America First” foreign policy, a sea change from President Obama’s approach to international affairs.
“Just days after he was sworn in they were already talking about trying to get rid of him,” said a White House colleague who overheard their conversation.
“They weren’t just bent on subverting his agenda,” the former official added. “They were plotting to actually have him removed from office.”
Misko left the White House last summer to join House impeachment manager Adam Schiff’s committee, where sources say he offered “guidance” to the whistleblower, who has been officially identified only as an intelligence officer in a complaint against Trump filed under whistleblower laws. Misko then helped run the impeachment inquiry based on that complaint as a top investigator for congressional Democrats.
The probe culminated in Trump’s impeachment last month on a party-line vote in the House of Representatives. Schiff and other House Democrats last week delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate, and are now pressing the case for his removal during the trial, which began Tuesday.
The coordination between the official believed to be the whistleblower and a key Democratic staffer, details of which are disclosed here for the first time, undercuts the narrative that impeachment developed spontaneously out of the “patriotism” of an “apolitical civil servant.”
Two former co-workers said they overheard Ciaramella and Misko, close friends and Democrats held over from the Obama administration, discussing how to “take out,” or remove, the new president from office within days of Trump’s inauguration. These co-workers said the president’s controversial Ukraine phone call in July 2019 provided the pretext they and their Democratic allies had been looking for.
“They didn’t like his policies,” another former White House official said. “They had a political vendetta against him from Day One.”Impeachment manager Adam Schiff speaks during the impeachment trial of President Trump in the Senate on Tuesday.
Their efforts were part of a larger pattern of coordination to build a case for impeachment, involving Democratic leaders as well as anti-Trump figures both inside and outside of government.
All unnamed sources for this article spoke only on condition that they not be further identified or described. Although strong evidence points to Ciaramella as the government employee who lodged the whistleblower complaint, he has not been officially identified as such. As a result, this article makes a distinction between public information released about the unnamed whistleblower/CIA analyst and specific information about Ciaramella.
Democrats based their impeachment case on the whistleblower complaint, which alleges that President Trump sought to help his re-election campaign by demanding that Ukraine’s leader investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for military aid. Yet Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, and other Democrats have insisted on keeping the identity of the whistleblower secret, citing concern for his safety, while arguing that his testimony no longer matters because other witnesses and documents have “corroborated” what he alleged in his complaint about the Ukraine call.Hunter and Joe Biden: Subjects of the Ukraine phone call at the center of Trump’s impeachment.
Republicans have fought unsuccessfully to call him as a witness, arguing that his motivations and associations are relevant – and that the president has the same due-process right to confront his accuser as any other American.
The whistleblower’s candor is also being called into question. It turns out that the CIA operative failed to report his contacts with Schiff’s office to the intelligence community’s inspector general who fielded his whistleblower complaint. He withheld the information both in interviews with the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, and in writing, according to impeachment committee investigators. The whistleblower form he filled out required him to disclose whether he had “contacted other entities” — including “members of Congress.” But he left that section blank on the disclosure form he signed.
The investigators say that details about how the whistleblower consulted with Schiff’s staff and perhaps misled Atkinson about those interactions are contained in the transcript of a closed-door briefing Atkinson gave to the House Intelligence Committee last October. However, Schiff has sealed the transcript from public view. It is the only impeachment witness transcript out of 18 that he has not released.
Schiff has classified the document “Secret,” preventing Republicans who attended the Atkinson briefing from quoting from it. Even impeachment investigators cannot view it outside a highly secured room, known as a “SCIF,” in the basement of the Capitol. Members must first get permission from Schiff, and they are forbidden from bringing phones into the SCIF or from taking notes from the document.Sen. Rand Paul: Among the few lawmakers who have publicly demanded that Ciaramella testify regarding the whistleblower’s complaint.
While the identity of the whistleblower remains unconfirmed, at least officially, Trump recently retweeted a message naming Ciaramella, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Louie Gohmert of the House Judiciary Committee have publicly demanded that Ciaramella testify about his role in the whistleblower complaint.
During last year’s closed-door House depositions of impeachment witnesses, Ciaramella’s name was invoked in heated discussions about the whistleblower, as RealClearInvestigations first reported Oct. 30, and has appeared in at least one testimony transcript. Congressional Republicans complain Schiff and his staff counsel have redacted his name from other documents.
Lawyers representing the whistleblower have neither confirmed nor denied that Ciaramella is their client. In November, after Donald Trump Jr. named Ciaramella and cited RCI’s story in a series of tweets, however, they sent a “cease and desist” letter to the White House demanding Trump and his “surrogates” stop “attacking” him. And just as the whistleblower complaint was made public in September, Ciaramella’s social media postings and profiles were scrubbed from the Internet.
‘Take Out’ the President
An Obama holdover and registered Democrat, Ciaramella in early 2017 expressed hostility toward the newly elected president during White House meetings, his co-workers said in interviews with RealClearInvestigations. They added that Ciaramella sought to have Trump removed from office long before the filing of the whistleblower complaint.Michael Flynn: Ciaramella and Misko were alarmed by Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, outlined by the president’s first national security adviser.
At the time, the CIA operative worked on loan to the White House as a top Ukrainian analyst in the National Security Council, where he had previously served as an adviser on Ukraine to Vice President Biden. The whistleblower complaint cites Biden, alleging that Trump demanded Ukraine’s newly elected leader investigate him and his son “to help the president’s 2020 reelection bid.”
Two NSC co-workers told RCI that they overheard Ciaramella and Misko – who was also working at the NSC as an analyst – making anti-Trump remarks to each other while attending a staff-wide NSC meeting called by then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, where they sat together in the south auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex.
The “all hands” meeting, held about two weeks into the new administration, was attended by hundreds of NSC employees.
“They were popping off about how they were going to remove Trump from office. No joke,” said one ex-colleague, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
A military staffer detailed to the NSC, who was seated directly in front of Ciaramella and Misko during the meeting, confirmed hearing them talk about toppling Trump during their private conversation, which the source said lasted about one minute. The crowd was preparing to get up to leave the room at the time.
“After Flynn briefed [the staff] about what ‘America first’ foreign policy means, Ciaramella turned to Misko and commented, ‘We need to take him out,’ ” the staffer recalled. “And Misko replied, ‘Yeah, we need to do everything we can to take out the president.’ “
Added the military detailee, who spoke on condition of anonymity: “By ‘taking him out,’ they meant removing him from office by any means necessary. They were triggered by Trump’s and Flynn’s vision for the world. This was the first ‘all hands’ [staff meeting] where they got to see Trump’s national security team, and they were huffing and puffing throughout the briefing any time Flynn said something they didn’t like about ‘America First.’ ”
He said he also overheard Ciaramella telling Misko, referring to Trump, ‘We can’t let him enact this foreign policy.’ “
Alarmed by their conversation, the military staffer immediately reported what he heard to his superiors.
“It was so shocking that they were so blatant and outspoken about their opinion,” he recalled. “They weren’t shouting it, but they didn’t seem to feel the need to hide it.”
The co-workers didn’t think much more about the incident.
“We just thought they were wacky,” the first source said. “Little did we know.”
Neither Ciaramella nor Misko could be reached for comment.Alexander Vindman: The National Security Council aide leaked to Ciaramella details of the July 25 Trump-Ukraine phone call. Like Ciaramella, Vindman expressed disdain for Trump, co-workers said.
A CIA alumnus, Misko had previously assisted Biden’s top national security aide Jake Sullivan. Former NSC staffers said Misko was Ciaramella’s closest and most trusted ally in the Trump White House.
“Eric and Sean were very tight and spent nearly two years together at the NSC,” said a former supervisor who requested anonymity. “Both of them were paranoid about Trump.”
“They were thick as thieves,” added the first NSC source. “They sat next to each other and complained about Trump all the time. They were buddies. They weren’t just colleagues. They were buddies outside the White House.”
The February 2017 incident wasn’t the only time the pair exhibited open hostility toward the president. During the following months, both were accused internally of leaking negative information about Trump to the media.
But Trump’s controversial call to the new president of Ukraine this past summer — in which he asked the foreign leader for help with domestic investigations involving the Obama administration, including Biden — gave them the opening they were looking for.
A mutual ally in the National Security Council who was one of the White House officials authorized to listen in on Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukraine’s president leaked it to Ciaramella the next day — July 26 — according to former NSC co-workers and congressional sources. The friend, Ukraine-born Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, held Ciaramella’s old position at the NSC as director for Ukraine. Although Ciaramella had left the White House to return to the CIA in mid-2017, the two officials continued to collaborate through interagency meetings.
Vindman leaked what he’d heard to Ciaramella by phone that afternoon, the sources said. In their conversation, which lasted a few minutes, he described Trump’s call as “crazy,” and speculated he had “committed a criminal act.” Neither reviewed the transcript of the call before the White House released it months later.
NSC co-workers said that Vindman, like Ciaramella, openly expressed his disdain for Trump whose foreign policy was often at odds with the recommendations of “the interagency” — a network of agency working groups comprised of intelligence bureaucrats, experts and diplomats who regularly meet to craft and coordinate policy positions inside the federal government.
Before he was detailed to the White House, Vindman served in the U.S. Army, where he once received a reprimand from a superior officer for badmouthing and ridiculing America in front of Russian soldiers his unit was training with during a joint 2012 exercise in Germany.
His commanding officer, Army Lt. Col. Jim Hickman, complained that Vindman, then a major, “was apologetic of American culture, laughed about Americans not being educated or worldly and really talked up Obama and globalism to the point of [It being] uncomfortable.”
“Vindman was a partisan Democrat at least as far back as 2012,” Hickman, now retired, asserted. “Do not let the uniform fool you. He is a political activist in uniform.”
Attempts to reach Vindman through his lawyer were unsuccessful.Fred Fleitz: Former chief of staff to John Bolton says it was obvious the whistleblower had coaching in writing his complaint.
July 26 was also the day that Schiff hired Misko to head up the investigation of Trump, congressional employment records show. Misko, in turn, secretly huddled with the whistleblower prior to filing his Aug. 12 complaint, according to multiple congressional sources, and shared what he told him with Schiff, who initially denied the contacts before press accounts revealed them.
Schiff’s office has also denied helping the whistleblower prepare his complaint, while rejecting a Republican subpoena for documents relating to it. But Capitol Hill veterans and federal whistleblower experts are suspicious of that account.
Fred Fleitz, who fielded a number of whistleblower complaints from the intelligence community as a former senior House Intelligence Committee staff member, said it was obvious that the CIA analyst had received coaching in writing the nine-page whistleblower report.
“From my experience, such an extremely polished whistleblowing complaint is unheard of,” Fleitz, also a former CIA analyst, said. “He appears to have collaborated in drafting his complaint with partisan House Intelligence Committee members and staff.”
Fleitz, who recently served as chief of staff to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, said the complaint appears to have been tailored to buttress an impeachment charge of soliciting the “interference” of a foreign government in the election.
And the whistleblower’s unsupported allegation became the foundation for Democrats’ first article of impeachment against the president. It even adopts the language used by the CIA analyst in his complaint, which Fleitz said reads more like “a political document.”
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