The Department of Justice revealed Wednesday that the whistleblower complaint related to President Trump's controversial phone call with the Ukrainian president sparked a referral to the DOJ's criminal division about whether Trump potentially violated campaign finance law.
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However, the criminal division, after reviewing the matter, determined there was no campaign finance violation and "has concluded the matter," a DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. The news comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in the House and a growing number of House Democrats who support such an investigation.
A Justice Department official told reporters that the DOJ spoke to "knowledgeable people in the White House" but their determination that there was no criminal violation was primarily based off a memorandum of the call, released by the White House. Questions regarding the Trump Administration's hold-up of military aid was not a factor in their investigation at all, the official explained, saying they see that as more of a foreign policy issue.
Further explaining the DOJ's handling of the referral, the official said the criminal division concluded that the information they had gathered did not amount to a criminal violation of campaign finance law because nothing "of value" was clearly promised or exchange as a result of the call.
The official said there was no disagreement among the prosecutors in the criminal division, even among career prosecutors, that the call did not amount to a potential campaign finance violation. The Assistant AG for the Criminal Division made the "final call" to conclude the matter, and said Attorney General William Barr was "not involved in the analysis by the criminal division." There was no consideration for the AG to formally recuse himself from the matter, the official said, and no consideration of the appointment of a special counsel.
And the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that a sitting president could not be indicted did not play a role in the DOJ's review, the officials said.
According to an opinion drafted by the OLC in this case, the DNI Inspector General Michael Atkinson [ICIG] believed the whistleblower constituted a potential "urgent concern" related to whether the president was illegally soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.
"According to the ICIG, statements made by the President during the call could be viewed as soliciting a foreign campaign contribution in violation of the campaign-finance laws," the OLC opinion said. "In the ICIG’s view, the complaint addresses an “urgent concern” for purposes of triggering statutory procedures that require expedited reporting of agency misconduct to the congressional intelligence committees."
In the memorandum of the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump repeatedly invoked Barr, saying he would have him, along with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, get in touch with Zelenskiy to investigate how Ukraine may have been involved in the origins of the Russia investigation before turning to press him on investigating former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter.
In 2014, the former vice president pushed for the dismissal of a top Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating an oil company that had taken on Biden's son as a board member. Joe Biden has denied wrongdoing and other international leaders have suggested that his move was appropriate.
"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that," Trump said, according to the memorandum of the call, which is not verbatim. "So whatever you can do with the attorney general that could be great."
The Ukrainian president responded by assuring Trump that a new prosecutor would "look into the situation."
"He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue," he said, according to the memo.
"I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it," Trump promised, according to the memo.
In the same breath, Trump assures Zelenskiy "your economy is going to get better and better I predict," the memo says.
In a statement, the DOJ spokesperson, Kupec said that the president never followed through in contacting Barr about the matter.
"The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son," Kupec said. "The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine – on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine – on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani."
DOJ officials also said that AG Barr has never been instructed by the president or anyone in the White House to investigate Biden.
The OLC opinion released by DOJ noted the complainant heard from "unnamed White House officials" about the call between Trump and Zelenskiy rather than having first-hand information. It said that after the DNI inspector general reviewed the complaint he "found 'some indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate," but "concluded that the complaint's allegations nonetheless appeared credible."
The OLC notes it did not evaluate whether the call was concerning, but reasoned it did not require reporting to Congress because Trump is not a member of the intelligence community and the complaint involved potentially privileged communications.