Eric Ciaramella, the alleged Ukraine whistleblower, was a guest of Vice President Joe Biden at a glitzy lunch in October 2016 to honor the prime minister of Italy.
Biden co-hosted the banquet with former Secretary of State John Kerry for then-Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Ciaramella, who is of Italian heritage, was among the U.S. officials who accepted an invitation. This week, the Washington Examiner reported that Ciaramella is now a deputy national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia on the National Intelligence Council, reporting to the director of national intelligence.
Ciaramella, a career CIA analyst, was Ukraine director on the National Security Council during the end of the Obama administration and remained there during the early months of the Trump administration, when he was briefly acting senior director for European and Russian affairs. He is now accused of being the official who filed a complaint about a July 25 phone call in which President Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into a conspiracy theory regarding CrowdStrike and investigate Biden, a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, in relation to his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine.
The complaint sparked concerns about potential abuse of power and led to impeachment proceedings in the Democrat-controlled House in which witnesses have said they believe Trump held out on meeting with Zelensky and congressionally-approved military aid in exchange for political favors.
Out of over 400 possible guests for the State Department event, 115 people were listed as having accepted invitations, although key Trump-Russia investigation figures such as former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch all declined their invitations, according to the guest list. Other notable figures such as then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, John and Tony Podesta, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice received invitations too.
Besides inviting Ciaramella, Biden’s office, as opposed to the State Department or another entity, sent invitations to more than thirty other people, including Obama press secretary Josh Earnest, Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Obama Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco, Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes, and Obama national security adviser Susan Rice.
RealClearInvestigations named Ciaramella as the whistleblower last week. The report cites U.S. officials who said the invite to Ciaramella, “a relatively low-level GS-13 federal employee, was unusual and signaled he was politically connected inside the Obama White House.”
While Trump and his allies have called for the whistleblower to be identified, the whistleblower’s lawyers and Democrats argue that the person’s identity no longer matters. Still, Ciaramella’s name has been invoked by GOP investigators as they question impeachment witnesses, getting his name on record.
Both Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, claim Biden improperly used his role as vice president to pressure Ukraine to fire former top prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was widely seen as corrupt, in 2016 to protect his son from an investigation into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company at which the younger Biden held a $50,000-per-month position on the board. This stems from a 2018 video showing the elder Biden bragging about threatening to hold back $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees if Ukraine did not terminate Shokin from his post.
But the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and other allies had the same objective, and Biden was repeating U.S. policy that had been set out by Washington’s ambassador to Kyiv in the preceding months and was briefed by White House staff just ahead of the trip. Biden has accused Giuliani of spreading “false, debunked conspiracy theories” about him as he seeks the presidency.
Having taken a leading role in the Obama administration’s dealings with Ukraine, Biden made six trips to the Eastern European country in eight years, including 2009, 2014, and late 2015. The last trip took place in January 2017. At the time, White House officials said the trip was to reinforce U.S. backing for Ukraine while the world prepared for the inauguration of Trump, who was expected to bring a pro-Russia stance to office days later.
Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid, lawyers for the whistleblower, refuse to confirm the identity of their client even as such high-profile figures as Donald Trump Jr. have named Ciaramella as the whistleblower.
“Identifying any suspected name for the whistleblower will place their family at risk of serious harm. We will not confirm or deny any name that is published or promoted by supporters of the president. Disclosure of any name undermines the integrity of the whistleblower system and will deter any future whistleblowers,” they said in a statement Wednesday. “We will note, however, that publication or promotion of a name shows the desperation to deflect from the substance of the whistleblower complaint. It will not relieve the president of the need to address the substantive allegation, all of which have been substantially proven to be true.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has faced criticism after it was revealed the whistleblower met with an intelligence panel aide seeking guidance before filing a complaint about Trump’s Ukraine communications with the Intelligence Community inspector general, and Schiff knew about it but did not immediately inform his Republican colleagues on his panel.
The Washington Examiner has reported that two ex-NSC staffers are now employed by Schiff. Abigail Grace, who worked at the NSC until 2018, was hired in February, while Sean Misko, an NSC aide until 2017, joined Schiff’s committee staff in August, the same month the whistleblower submitted his complaint.
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