US President Donald Trump pushed for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president and Democratic political rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of the phone call released by White House.
President Donald Trump repeatedly prodded Ukraine’s new leader to work with the US attorney general and lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate Democratic political rival, Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript summarising the call released on Wednesday.
The conversation between the two leaders is one piece of a whistleblower’s complaint, which followed the July 25 call. The complaint is central to the formal impeachment inquiry launched on Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The release of the rough transcript set the parameters of the political debate to come. Trump, at the UN on Wednesday, dismissed it and said as he often does that’s he’s the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt in American history.”
Zelensky calls controversial Trump call ‘normal’
Later Zelensky told reporters, with Trump sitting at his side, he had not been “pushed” by Trump to probe Biden.
“We had –– I think (a) good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things, and… so I think and you read it that nobody pushed me,”
The two met on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting after Democrats launched an impeachment investigation into Trump, alleging he abused his powers as president for personal political ends.
Discovery of ‘smoking gun’
The connection to Attorney General William Barr marked a new and potentially more serious issue for Trump because it shows he took steps to involve the US government with a foreign country to investigate a political rival.
One example in the summary: Trump says to Zelensky, “I would like for you to do us a favour though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”
In the conversation, Trump doesn’t distinguish between the roles of Giuliani, his personal attorney and political ally, and Barr, who as the nation’s top law enforcement officer is supposed to be above the political fray. Barr has been a staunch defender of Trump, most notably during the Mueller investigation.
Barr hasn’t discussed anything related to Ukraine with Giuliani, officials said.
Trump has recently confirmed that he ordered the freezing of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before the call. It was not clear from the summary whether Zelensky was aware that Trump had frozen the aid.
The president took the 30-minute call from the White House residence, while officials in the Situation Room listened in and worked to keep a record of the conversation, as is standard practice. The resulting memorandum was classified as “Secret’ and “ORCON, for “originator controlled,” to prevent its spread throughout the federal government or to American allies.
It was declassified on Tuesday for release on Wednesday.
Federal campaign finance violation?
The release came against the backdrop of the president presiding over a meeting of world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable split-screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era.
Prosecutors from the department reviewed a transcript of the call and determined the president did not violate campaign finance law. The determination was made based on the elements of the allegation, and there was no consideration of the department’s policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the official said.
“The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former vice president Biden or his son. The president has not asked the attorney general to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter,” the spokeswoman said.
‘No one is above the law’
Lawmakers have been demanding details of the whistleblower’s complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege. He is to testify on Thursday before the House, and lawmakers are expected to have access to details of the complaint beforehand in a classified setting.
The complaint has set off a stunning turn of American political events, leading Pelosi to yield to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats on the impeachment inquiry.
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.