Democrats in Congress got fresh fodder in their impeachment probe of President Trump on Wednesday, compelling the commander-in-chief to give a series of frenzied press conferences.
A partial transcript of a phone call released Wednesday showed Trump had asked Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump told Zelensky in a July 25 phone call, according to a transcript released by the White House.
He went on to urge Ukraine’s leader to work with Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on an investigation into the former veep and his son Hunter Biden.
“There is a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Trump said during the 30-minute call.
“So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”
For his part, Giuliani has admitted to conducting an extensive effort to find dirt on the Bidens. The former mayor of NYC has said without proof that the ex-veep wanted Ukraine’s former top prosecutor fired to prevent an investigation of Hunter Biden, who was previously on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Trump insists there was nothing wrong about the July call. But Dems view it is as a key piece of a pattern in which Trump misused the power of American foreign policy for political gain.
Trump reportedly put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine days before the call, suggesting he was trying to make a quid pro quo with Zelensky — even if the tradeoff wasn’t explicit.
“The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the President engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, a day after announcing an impeachment probe into Trump.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) called the call a “shakedown” and said the transcript was “far more damning” than he expected.
Trump made no fewer than three press appearances Wednesday, right in the middle of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.
His tone ranged from self-pitying to disgusted as he lashed out at a range of perceived enemies.
Near the start of the day, he tried to spin the story by claiming, “A lot of people said, ‘I never knew you could be so nice.’”
Trump and Zelensky appeared side by side in the afternoon.
“We had, I think, a good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things,” Ukraine’s leader said.
“Nobody pushed me.”
Trump gave a solo press conference later in the day at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. He used a familiar gaslight tactic from the Trump playbook, accusing Democrats of the exact charges he is facing — in this case, pressuring Ukraine to help his political agenda.
“They went there and they wanted to force the new president to do things that they wanted under the form of political threat,” he said of congressional Democrats.
“That’s what they’re accusing me of, but I didn’t do it.”
He also insinuated former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden took out “millions of dollars” from Ukraine and China, though he gave no details or evidence of the inflammatory charges.
He tauntingly said Dems should ask for a transcript of an additional call he held with Zelensky, as well as “V.P. (Mike) Pence’s conversation.”
But news reports revealed a more panicked attitude behind the scenes.
He reportedly had begged Pelosi not to conduct an impeachment probe, asking her, “Can we work something out?”
Nevertheless, Trump’s allies stayed true to form Wednesday.
“It’s a dark day for the rule of law that a president is going to be found guilty without any proof,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
After about a week of stonewalling, the White House on Wednesday agreed to give lawmakers the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment probe. Details of the document were not known as of Wednesday evening.
But House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the allegations in the complaint “deeply disturbing."
“I also found them deeply credible and I understand why the inspector general found them credible,” Schiff said.
The whistleblower was also concerned over how the White House handled records of Trump’s call, according to a New York Times report, citing sources. The whistleblower also said multiple White House officials were witnesses to potential misconduct by Trump and could corroborate the complaint, the sources said.
The whistleblower, whose identity is not known, went to the U.S. government’s intelligence inspector general in August.
The complaint is likely to give context to the phone call transcript, which was not a verbatim report of what was said but rather a “memorandum” compiled by staffers.
Biden lamented the president’s conduct.
He said, “It is a tragedy for this country that our president put personal politics above his sacred oath.”