Donald Trump's senior aides have further restricted the number of administration officials allowed to listen to the US President's phone calls with foreign leaders, according White House sources cited by CNN.
The new developments are said to be part of an effort to limit those with access to the calls to only the President's senior-most aides.
According to a White House official:
"Nobody is allowed on the calls. The barn door officially closed after the horse escaped."
Earlier in the administration, a larger number of officials would be allowed to listen to phone calls with foreign leaders, including aides with specific expertise in the countries being phoned.
Now when the President speaks on the phone with world leaders, he's joined on the call by just a handful of others appointed by Trump to the highest level of the administration.
The list is signed off on by national security adviser Robert O'Brien, who will often join the call himself along with a rotating roster of officials including his deputy Matt Pottinger, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his deputy Rob Blair, according to CNN.
The changes also apply to transcripts of Trump's calls with world leaders. From now on, they are available to a much smaller group of people inside the White House, say the sources.
One White House official jokingly dubbed the introduced change "The Vindman Rule", after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
The National Security Council's director on Ukraine was among those who listened to Trump’s 25 July phone conversation with the Ukrainian President.
"Vindman wouldn't hear the (July 25th) call if it happened tomorrow," a White House official told CNN.
Vindman purportedly found the call so concerning that he reported it to National Security Council lawyers.
The cited changes stem from the fallout since Trump’s 25 July call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky was revealed to form the centrepiece for the subsequent impeachment probe launched by the Democrats.
There has been no official comment yet from the National Security Council spokesperson regarding the report.
Formal Trump Charge
Currently the US Democrats are heading into their impeachment probe finale as the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, 13 December, recommended impeaching Donald Trump, with a vote on the proposal in the full House of Representatives slated for next week.
The committee voted 23-17 to advance two articles of impeachment against Trump, one of which accuses him of abusing his power as US president in order to try and force Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden; the other article accuses Trump of obstructing the congressional investigation into that affair.
An impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump was initiated by US House Democrats in September after a whistleblower complaint claimed that the American President may have abused his power by allegedly using US military aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky during a 25 July phone call to investigate the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a local energy company, Burisma.
Donald Trump has denied any wrongdoing, releasing the transcript of the call and branding the impeachment inquiry as another round of “witch hunt garbage” aimed at discrediting him ahead of the 2020 vote.