Whistleblower fallout: House Dems narrow impeachment focus as the White House struggles to respond: The Morning Rundown

"We have to put country before party," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about the Trump impeachment inquiry on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday.
Image: Donald Trump
A "shell-shocked" White House is scrambling to respond to the impeachment inquiry. Carolyn Kaster / AP

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By Petra Cahill

Good morning, NBC News readers.

The whistleblower complaint released Thursday has kicked House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into high gear. And the White House is trying to contain the fallout.

Here's what we know so far today.


Whistleblower complaint alleges White House tried to 'lock down' call records

"In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

So begins the explosive whistleblower complaint at the center of the growing scandal involving President Donald Trump and Ukraine that was made public Thursday.

The 9-page document centers on Trump's conversations and actions regarding Ukraine, including a 30-minute phone call between the president and Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to further probe the Biden family's business dealings.

One of the more damning allegations in the report is that White House officials moved to "lock down" the transcript of the politically damaging phone call by deliberately misplacing it in a highly-classified database.

The allegation that this was "not the first time" the administration has misused the classified system to bury "politically sensitive" information has raised alarm bells among national security experts and former government officials familiar with the secret, electronic system.

The complaint also paints a picture of the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine working to "contain the damage" to national security inflicted by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, as a result of his unorthodox involvement in U.S.-Ukraine relations.

Here are 10 of the most important accusations laid out in the complaint.

Read the full text of the whistleblower complaint here.


‘Shell-shocked’ White House scrambles to find impeachment footing

White House officials were urgently trying to figure out how to counter the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, with one source familiar with the situation describing a sense of "total panic" over the past week at the lack of a plan to address the new reality.

There appears to be rising "anxiety, unease and concern" — as one person close to the White House described the mood in the West Wing — that the whistleblower’s allegations could seriously wound the president and some of those around him.

"There’s not a lot of confidence that there's no there there," this person said.


Weeks not months: Impeachment path takes shape in the House

The whistleblower complaint has now become the primary focus of the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

“The consensus in our caucus is that focus now is on this allegation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

“All of the other work that relates to abuse of power, ignoring subpoenas of government, of Congress, abuse — contempt of Congress by him — those things will be considered later.”

The speaker insisted that there will be an inquiry "to further establish the facts" and that there "is no rush to judgment."

On Friday, Pelosi said there "is no cause for any joy" in launching a formal impeachment inquiry against the president.

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“This is a very sad time for our country,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an exclusive interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

While Congress is set to depart on a two-week recess Friday, the Intelligence Committee plans to keep pushing ahead.

“We’ll be working through the recess,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the Intelligence Committee told reporters Thursday. “I think the complaint gives us a pretty good roadmap of allegations that we need to investigate.”


Trump: Whistleblower's sources are like spies

Trump went into full attack mode in the wake of the whistleblower's complaint Thursday. The president likened the unidentified whistleblower's sources to spies, and made a thinly-veiled threat against them.

"I want to know who's the person, who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy," Trump said at a private event for staff members at the United States Mission to the United Nations on Thursday, according to an audio recording of his remarks obtained 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."

A U.S. official with knowledge of Trump’s remarks at the event told NBC News Trump also ripped the press as "scum."

Diplomats present for the remarks were taken aback to hear such explicitly political comments and attacks on the president's perceived enemies during an event for government workers, the official told NBC News.

Meantime, the New York Times has been criticized for publishing personal details about the whistleblower, with critics saying the decision could put the person in jeopardy.


The Week in Pictures

Life went on outside the Beltway over the past week.

Below two men are part of a crowd of thousands who flocked to a Nevada military base colloquially known as Area 51 for a pair of alien-themed festivals on Sept. 20.

See more of the most compelling images from the last week here.

Two men dance on a road to an entrance to Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada, on Sept. 20. Jim Urquhart / Reuters

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Plus


THINK about it

Trump's Ukraine whistleblower scandal sets a dangerous DOJ legal precedent, Steve Vladeck, professor at the University of Texas School of Law, writes in an opinion piece.


Science + Tech = MACH

Martin Scorsese's long-awaited mob movie "The Irishman" is a decades-long epic that uses de-aging visual effects on the film's stars — Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino. We look at how far this technology has come to give us younger versions of these highly familiar faces.


One fun thing

Anyone who has opened a box of Lego in the last few years has likely had the humbling experience of realizing: This is not just child's play.

Fifteen of the world’s most talented Lego builders were invited to showcase their work in an exhibition that challenged the perception of what can be built with Legos.

A pirate ship, a coral reef and an abandoned house were some of their amazing constructions recently on display at the Lego House in Denmark.


Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

If you have any comments — likes, dislikes — drop me an email at: petra@nbcuni.com

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Thanks, Petra