A top CIA lawyer attempted to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department weeks ago based on allegations made in the recently released whistleblower complaint, NBC News reported Friday, citing officials familiar with the matter.
CIA general counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood, who was appointed by President Trump, attempted to make the referral, signaling that she and other officials determined that a crime may have been committed based on the whistleblower’s allegations that Trump sought to get a foreign government’s assistance in the 2020 election.
The timeline of Elwood’s contact with the Department of Justice had been previously reported, but NBC is the first to report that she intended it to be a criminal referral over Trump’s conduct.
DOJ later declined to launch a criminal probe into Trump’s Ukraine call, saying in a statement that it had determined “there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.”
Elwood had been part of a conference call with John Eisenberg, chief legal adviser to the White House National Security Council, and top DOJ national security lawyer John Demers on Aug. 14.
Elwood and Eisenberg reportedly told Demers that the whistleblower’s claims were worth DOJ scrutiny. Elwood was following rules that say there must be a report if there is a reasonable basis to a whistleblower’s accusations, which is defined as “facts and circumstances…that would cause a person of reasonable caution to believe that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed,” officials told NBC.
DOJ officials have reportedly said that there were unclear on if Elwood was seeking to make a criminal referral and that she was vague on the subject when they reached out for clarification.
The now-released whistleblower complaint said that Trump “sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader,” Volodymyr Zelensky, into probing former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Trump requested the investigation during a July 25 phone call that came days after he delayed a massive military aid package for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress.
The whistleblower’s complaint is now at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump.