White House blames NSC aide for call discrepancy

The White House placed the responsibility on the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council on Friday after being asked about the discrepancy between the April readout of President Donald Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian President and the transcript released Friday.

The President also ignored directives from his National Security Council staff to bring up corruption during his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, despite the White House’s claim that fighting corruption was his primary reason for withholding the military aid, CNN has learned.

In that transcript, there is no mention of corruption despite a White House readout of the call that was released in April that stated the issue arose. A White House spokesperson put that discrepancy at the feet of a central witness to the House impeachment inquiry in a statement.

“The President continues to push for transparency in light of these baseless accusations and has taken the unprecedented steps to release the transcripts of both phone calls with President Zelensky so that every American can see he did nothing wrong,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement on Friday.

“It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the President’s phone calls with foreign leaders. This one was prepared by the NSC’s Ukraine expert.”

That expert is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who gave testimony to impeachment inquiry investigators earlier this month that was critical of Trump. For more than 10 hours, Vindman testified that he reported concerns about Trump’s July 25 call with the leader of Ukraine to the top National Security Council lawyer within hours, and said some of the changes he tried to make to the since-published transcript were left out, though he didn’t say why. Later, he was told not to discuss the call with anyone else.

Despite what Gidley said, a White House source told CNN the mistake was due to an error by the White House, a remarkable disagreement over the responsibility for an inaccurate press release within the West Wing.

According to that source, the national security adviser reviews and approves a draft press release prepared by the Directorate and reviewed by NSC Legal and NSC Press Office — which is based on prepared talking points for the call and done before it happens.

Typically, the country expert will update the press release to reflect the topics that are actually discussed.

“On April 21, 2019, President Trump did not raise the issue of corruption during the call with President-elect Zelensky, despite the NSC’s recommendation that he do so and specific talking points included in briefing materials addressing that important topic,” the White House source said.

“Given that the call occurred on Sunday, April 21, 2019, the White House may not have updated the press release to reflect the contents of the call before it was publicly released,” the source explained.

Despite questions about if the call readout was updated, sources say that Vindman is not the only White House official to blame for the error.