By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – The individual who issued a whistleblower complaint centered on U.S. President Donald Trump soliciting his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden is "almost a spy," Trump charged behind closed doors Thursday.
Trump made the remarks while addressing a private event at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York City. He appeared to assign the label to not just the person who issued the complaint but whomever passed on the information that it is based on.
"Who's the person that gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy," Trump said in the recording made public by the Los Angeles Times.
"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,” he said to laughter from the audience.
It is unclear from the 37-second recording, which ends after the laughter is heard, if Trump was referring to the whistleblower, the individuals who assisted him or her, or perhaps all of the above.
The Los Angeles Times said it obtained the audio from an individual who was present at the event.
Trump has repeatedly maintained that the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "perfect" and denied any sort of wrongdoing took place.
The New York Times earlier Thursday reported that the whistleblower is a male CIA officer, based on information from anonymous individuals familiar with the person's identity.
The whistleblower's complaint was made public earlier Thursday by the House Intelligence Committee.
In it, he alleges the White House scrambled to "lock down" records of a telephone conversation in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, on the president’s so-far unsubstantiated claims of corruption.
The individual said in the nine-page complaint he received information from "multiple U.S. government officials" alleging Trump was "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
That included requests to Zelensky during the July 25 telephone call to investigate the Bidens.
Biden is the leading Democratic nominee heading into the 2020 presidential race, making him a clear political rival to the president.
In the ensuing days following the call, the whistleblower alleges the White House sought to reign in any records of the conversation, including a "word-for-word" transcript that normally accompanies calls made in the White House Situation Room.
Officials told the whistleblower that White House lawyers directed staffers to remove the electronic transcript of the call from the computer system where they are normally held and transfer it to another system on which classified information "of an especially sensitive nature" is normally stored.
Trump earlier Thursday tore into House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff as the panel heard testimony from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
"Liddle’ Adam Schiff, who has worked unsuccessfully for 3 years to hurt the Republican Party and President, has just said that the Whistleblower, even though he or she only had second hand information, 'is credible,'" Trump said on Twitter.
"How can that be with zero info and a known bias. Democrat Scam!"
The individual's identity is still unknown. It is unclear what information Trump is basing his claim of bias on.
But the White House released a rough transcript of the call Wednesday, which it noted is not verbatim.
"I would like you to do us a favor," Trump said after Zelensky raised the issue of arms purchases from the U.S., according to the transcript.
"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, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great," Trump said.
"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. I'm sure you will figure it out."
Trump was referring to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The whistleblower said multiple officials informed him that Giuliani then traveled to Spain around Aug. 2 to meet Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak as a "direct follow-up" to the July 25 call.
Revelations of the complaint and ensuing claims Trump sought to hold up hundreds of millions of dollars in military funding to Ukraine to leverage Zelensky have prompted the House of Representatives to open an impeachment probe into Trump.
Giuliani sought to defend himself ahead of a potential congressional subpoena, saying on Twitter "the Dem phony attack on my conduct as a lawyer is intended to intimidate me in defending an innocent client."
"Schiff has been attempting to frame @realDonaldTrump for almost three years. He should be investigated for lying, enabling perjury, and trampling on constitutional rights," he said.