President Trump asked the president of Ukraine to do him a “favor” by investigating political rival Joe Biden, according to a damning transcript of their now-infamous call that appears to confirm allegations that Trump acted improperly.
“Biden stopped the prosecution (of his son)and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do .... would be great,” Trump told Zelensky in the July 25 call. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you ·can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump also repeatedly pressed Zelensky to take direction from Rudy Giuliani, who has admitted mounting an extensive operation to dig up dirt on Biden and his son, Hunter, in Ukraine.
“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy.” Trump told Zelensky, heaping praise on the ex-mayor. “If you could speak to him that would be great.”
Trump defended the call as completely innocent Wednesday and said the transcript backs up his claim there was no pressure put on Zelensky to cooperate with the probe of the Bidens or face a loss of American aid.
“It’s the single greatest witch hunt in American history,” Trump told reporters in New York. “It’s a disgraceful thing.”
But Democrats and legal analysts are likely to see the transcript as deeply incriminating.
Even though the tone was friendly, Trump left little doubt that he was pushing Zelensky to cooperate with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr in efforts to tarnish Biden.
“That is text book abuse of power and the transcripts have become exhibit A in that regard,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), a senior member of the Democratic leadership team.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) called the call a “shakedown” and said the transcript was “far more damning” than he expected.
Trump mentioned that the “U.S. has been very, very good to the Ukraine,” a remark that underlined the fact that Trump had days earlier put a hold on $400 million in security aid to the wartorn nation locked in a battle with neighboring Russia.
He also derided Zelensky’s predecessor for bowing to pressure from Biden and other allies and firing a former prosecutor who was widely accused of corruption. That Ukrainian prosecutor was also investigating a gas company on which Hunter Biden sat on the board.
“I heard you had a prosecutor who· was very·good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. _·A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved,” Trump said.
The transcript is a stunning opening salvo in Democrats just-launched impeachment inquiry.
Some analysts questioned whether the document that was released fully captures Trump’s effort to ensnare Biden. They noted that there are elipses in the section where the president mentions Biden, suggesting some portion of the discussion may have been omitted.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer for the whistleblower, retweeted an anaylsis of the elipses, suggesting that the whistleblower may believe there was important information left out.
The transcript is not a verbatim report of what was said but rather a “memorandum” compiled by staffers, who may not include portions that seem embarrassing to the president.
The White House has also vowed to release a whistleblower complaint about the call and other Trump actions to gin up dirt against Biden in Ukraine.
The whistleblower also has asked to be allowed to testify openly in Congress.
If Trump sought foreign aid for a campaign against a domestic political rival it would amount to a shocking abuse of power. Presidents are sworn to carry out foreign policy in service of the best interests of the nation and not their narrow partisan aims.
Republican lawmakers quickly lined up to parrot Trump’s line that the call offered no proof of an impeachable offense.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the call revealed Trump never threatened Zelensky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Cal.) derided Pelosi’s impeachment announcement as a “dark day for America.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a sometime critic of Trump, called the transcript “very troubling.” The 2012 presidential nominee declined to criticize Pelosi for launching the impeachment probe, although he didn’t say he supports it either.
The inspector general for the intelligence community wrote to the Director of National Intelligence in August that he believed the conversation between Trump and Ukraine’s leader could have been a federal campaign finance violation because the president could have been soliciting a campaign contribution from a foreign government, a Justice Department official said.
The whistleblower — a member of the intelligence community — said in their complaint that they had heard the information from “White House officials,” but did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, the Justice Department official said.
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 official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal investigative deliberations.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the attorney general was first notified of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president “several weeks after the call took place,” when the department received the referral about potential criminal conduct.
“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.
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 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.
Congress’ probe focuses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Biden and help his own re-election. Pelosi said such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared, “No one is above the law.”
The impeachment inquiry, after months of investigations by House Democrats of the Trump administration, sets up the party’s most direct and consequential confrontation with the Republican president, injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.
With News wire services