Donald Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, according to a White House record of a call between the leaders that was released a day after Congress opened an impeachment inquiry.
The transcript — a non-verbatim memo of the July 25 call by White House note takers — was hailed by Mr Trump’s supporters as evidence he had not tried to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to probe the Bidens by threatening to withhold $391m in military aid.
The memo did show that Mr Trump responded to Mr Zelensky’s offer to buy more US Javelin missiles by asking him to “do us a favour” related to the “whole situation with Ukraine”, and later asked the Ukrainian president to talk to William Barr, his attorney-general, and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, about Hunter Biden and his father.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney-general would be great,” Mr Trump said, according to the notes. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it . . . It sounds horrible to me.”
I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time
The other thing. There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney-general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it . . . It sounds horrible to me
Yes it is. Very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future co-operation.
Mr Trump has alleged that Joe Biden in 2016 improperly pressured Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, a company where his son was on the board. While Mr Biden called for the prosecutor’s dismissal and threatened to withhold $1bn in US loan guarantees if he was not fired, his efforts were part of a wider endeavour involving US allies and organisations such as the IMF to crack down on corruption in Kiev.
At a news conference at the end of a three-day visit to New York for the UN General Assembly, Mr Trump reiterated the unsubstantiated allegations against the Bidens, and insisted he had not improperly pressured Mr Zelensky.
“I didn’t do it,” he said. “I didn’t threaten anybody. No push, no pressure, I didn’t do anything . . . You take a look at that call, it was perfect. There was no quid pro quo.”
Shortly before his news conference, Mr Trump held a previously scheduled meeting with Mr Zelensky on the sidelines of the UN gathering. The Ukrainian president was asked by reporters whether he felt under pressure from the US president to investigate the Bidens.
“I think you read everything. I don’t want to be involved to democratic elections of USA,” Mr Zelensky responded in English, before adding, in reference to the phone conversation, that “nobody pushed me.”
Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said the record of the conversation showed “the president engaged in behaviour that undermines the integrity of our elections”. Ms Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry in the House on Tuesday after a still-unidentified whistleblower in the US intelligence community raised concerns about Mr Trump’s interaction with Mr Zelensky.
“It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign,” Ms Pelosi said of Mr Trump. “Either the president does not know the weight of his words or he does not care about ethics or his constitutional responsibilities.”
The official memorandum on the July call showed Mr Trump promising to have Mr Barr and Mr Giuliani contact the Ukrainian leader about the Biden case. “We will get to the bottom of it,” Mr Trump said. “I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor.”
Mr Barr’s involvement had not been previously disclosed and raises new questions over whether Mr Trump sought to involve the justice department in his efforts to get dirt on Mr Biden and his son.
Mr Zelensky told Mr Trump his government would be “very serious about the case and will work on the investigation”. It was unclear whether he was referring to the request to investigate the Bidens or other matters in Ukraine.
US media reported that American intelligence officials referred the comments in the call to the US justice department because they believed there was possible criminal conduct, but government lawyers came to a different conclusion.
On Wednesday evening, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, said his committee had seen the whistleblower’s complaint and that it “exposed serious wrongdoing”.
Calling it a “travesty” that the complaint had been withheld from Congress until Wednesday, Mr Schiff said: “The idea that the Department of Justice would have intervened to prevent it from getting to Congress throws the leadership of that department into further ill repute.”
Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, was due to testify before Mr Schiff’s committee on Thursday morning.
Elizabeth Warren, one of the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination and one of the first to call for impeachment, said the transcript was a “smoking gun”.
In a statement, Mr Biden described the call as a “national security issue” and a “test of our democratic values”. “Congress must pursue the facts and quickly take prompt action to hold Donald Trump accountable,” he said.
I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defence. We are ready to continue to co-operate for the next steps. Specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defence purposes
I would like you to do us a favour though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike . . . I guess you have one of your wealthy people . . . The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation
Republicans in Congress came to Mr Trump’s defence, arguing that Democrats were trying to avoid an investigation into whether Mr Biden had a conflict of interest over Ukraine because of his son’s business dealings.
“Wow. Impeachment over this? What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger. Democrats have lost their minds when it comes to President @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted Lindsey Graham, a hawkish Republican senator and frequent ally of the US president.
Mr Trump has confirmed that he withheld $391m in military aid to Ukraine before making the July 25 call, but denied he was attempting to pressure Mr Zelensky. The transcript contained no direct mention of the delayed assistance.
When Mr Trump asked Mr Zelensky to look into the “whole situation with Ukraine”, he also mentioned CrowdStrike, a cyber security company, and a server that was located in Ukraine.
While it was unclear what server Mr Trump meant, cyber security experts said he may have been trying to track down information gathered by Ukrainian intelligence in 2016, when Russian attackers were targeting Ukraine alongside US systems.
Mr Zelensky acknowledged the request, said one of his assistants had spoken with Mr Giuliani and expressed interest in meeting the former New York mayor. He also spent part of the call flattering the US president.
However, the Ukrainian president has since appointed Ruslan Ryaboshapka, a reformer with a record of fighting corruption, as prosecutor-general in place of Yury Lutsenko, who had promised to reopen the Biden investigation.
Mr Zelensky has yet to meet Mr Giuliani, but he sent a top aide to Madrid to see the Mr Trump’s personal lawyer last month. Ukrainian officials say Mr Zelensky has attempted to focus on building “chemistry” with Mr Trump while reacting guardedly to the aid delay.
Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey and Aime Williams in Washington
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi
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