WASHINGTON (PM) — President Donald Trump repeatedly urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a crude transcript of a summertime phone call that is now at the core of Democrats’ impeachment probe into Trump.
In the conversation, Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart: “I would like for you to do us a favor.” He urges him to work with Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
The president’s words set the parameters of the political debate to come, with Democrats saying that it generated the predicate for an impeachment inquiry and Trump dismissing it as a “nothing call.” Yet the crude transcript clearly shows Trump’s willingness to engage a foreign leader on matters directly related to his reelection prospects.
Trump spent Wednesday meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable split-screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. On his schedule: a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose contacts with Trump are now central to the impeachment inquiry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who launched the impeachment inquiry after months of resistance, said Trump’s call with Zelenskiy amounted to a “shake down” to benefit his campaign. She declared: “Congress must act.”
The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint on the president’s activities, though the administration has prevented Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege.
The complaint was being examined for classified material and could go to Congress by Thursday, according to a person intimate with the issue who was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In the rough transcript of the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr. Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine’s economy, saying: “Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country.”
In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy.
Trump has attempted to connect Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing heightened anxieties among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t assist with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president “will leave Congress … with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” He said that would be a catastrophe of Trump’s “own making.”
On Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House is anticipated to consider a symbolic but still notable resolution requesting the Trump administration turn over to Congress the whistleblower’s complaint. The Republican-led Senate, in a rare bipartisan moment, unanimously approved a similar resolution Tuesday.
The lawyer for the whistleblower, who is still anonymous, issued a statement saying he had asked Trump’s director of national intelligence to turn over the complaint to House committees and asking guidance to permit the whistleblower to meet with lawmakers.