U.S. President Donald Trump asked Ukraine President for information on former U.S. vice-president and Democratic foe Joe Biden during a call in July, a memorandum of a telephone call released by the White House on Wednesday says.
In the call, Trump raised unsubstantiated allegations that Biden sought to interfere with a Ukrainian prosecutor’s investigation of his son Hunter.
“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,” the phone call summary reads.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
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 raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice-president or his son.
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Speaking to reporters following the release of the memo Wednesday morning, Trump insisted there had been “no pressure whatsoever” put on Zelenskiy.
“The president himself just came out with a statement saying there was absolutely no pressure put on him, and there wasn’t,” he said. “What I do want to see is … I want to see other countries helping Ukraine also, not just us.”
He continued, calling the impeachment inquiry the “single greatest witch hunt in American history.”
At press conference with Trump during a United Nations summit, Zelenskiy said they had a “good phone call” and that he and Trump discussed “many things.”
“Nobody pushed me,” he said.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump called on the Democrats to apologize.
“Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call – got them by surprise,” he wrote.
In a tweet posted Tuesday ahead of the release of the memo, Biden said Trump’s actions “are an abuse of power.”
“They undermine our national security. They violate the oath of office,” he wrote. “If we allow a President to get away with shredding the United States Constitution — that will last forever.”
Speaking in the Senate on Wednesday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he “strongly” supports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision on Tuesday to launch an impeachment inquiry and said that it is in the “country’s best interest.”
“If we don’t reckon with President Trump’s persistent transgressions, the very foundation of this great republic is at risk,” he said. “The president kept pushing and pushing and pushing the constitutional envelope. Finally, the president’s conduct made an impeachment inquiry unavoidable.”
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Schumer also called for the release of the full, unredacted transcript of a whistleblower complaint and for further investigation into Trump and his aides.
“We must remember, the president was reported to have several calls with President Zelenskiy over the summer, and his administration has a well-earned reputation for dishonesty, altered facts and incomplete disclosure in public releases,” he said.
“The notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damning than I or many others had imagined. It is shocking at another level that the White House would release these notes and felt that somehow this would help the president’s case or cause,” he said. “Because what those notes reflect is a classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader. They reflect a Ukrainian president who is desperate for U.S. support.”
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In a statement issued Wednesday, Pelosi said the memo confirms that Trump “engaged in behaviour that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security.”
“The president has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad,” she continued.
Pelosi says the memo and the Justice Department’s “acting in rogue fashion in being complicit in the president’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry.”
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In a series of tweets late Tuesday evening, Trump said he had authorized the release of the unredacted transcript of the phone conversation, saying it was a “totally appropriate call.”
“I am currently at the United Nations representing our Country, but have authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelenskiy of Ukraine,” he wrote. “You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo!”
Hours later, Trump said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had received permission from the Ukrainian government to release the transcript.
“They don’t know either what the big deal is,” he wrote. “A total Witch Hunt scam by the Democrats!”
The call is at the centre of the latest scandal dogging the Trump administration and is the focus of the formal impeachment inquiry announced by Pelosi.
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The inquiry centres on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought the help of Ukraine to undermine Biden and help his own re-election during the July phone call.
In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged that he blocked the funds, which were later released.
In her brief statement on Tuesday, Pelosi said those actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared: “No one is above the law.”
Trump rebuffed the impeachment inquiry on Twitter, saying it is “presidential harassment.”
The phone call is also the suspected subject of an unnamed whistleblower’s complaint.
While the White House had refused to show the complaint to Congress, Trump said Wednesday he supports transparency on the report.
The whistleblower complaint was made available to members and staff of congressional intelligence committees Wednesday, giving lawmakers access to the allegations ahead of testimony Thursday from acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who saw the report, told reporters he found the allegations “deeply disturbing.”
“I also found them very credible,” Schiff said.
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— With files from Global News’ Maryam Shah and the Associated Press