President Donald Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in a phone call in July, according to a transcript released by the White House on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot 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,” Trump said on the call, according to the transcript, from a conversation on July 25.
The transcript was not a verbatim record but is based on the duty staff who listened to it in the situation room. (Click here to read the full transcript.)
Trump has insisted that there was no “quid pro quo” involved in the conversation, or a promise that the U.S. would continue foreign aid to the country if a probe of the Bidens was carried out.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions. Although six House committees have been investigating the president, the revelation that a whistleblower sounded the alarm over Trump’s phone call has changed the equation.
In the conversation, Trump asked the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the attorney general, William Barr, in a probe of the Bidens.
In the transcript, Trump asks Zelensky for a “favor” to “find out what happened with this whole situation in Ukraine.” He then asks that he look into CrowdStrike, the security software company that helped the Democratic National Committee investigate its 2016 hack.
Trump has cast doubt on CrowdStrike’s conclusions that the hack was carried out by groups with links to Russian intelligence, but the company said that it provided the forensic evidence and analysis to the FBI, which reached the same conclusion. He also seemed to believe that the DNC server ended up in Ukraine, but that is an unproven conspiracy theory.
“The server, they say Ukraine has it,” Trump said in the call.
Trump’s defenders quickly seized on the transcript to argue that it revealed that there was no “quid pro quo” in the call, but Democrats zeroed in on the fact that Trump asked a foreign leader for assistance in investigating a potential political rival in 2020.
“To impeach any president over a phone call like this would be insane,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters at the Capitol.
That was a contrast to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who wrote on Twitter, “They admit it: Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to work with the U.S. Attorney General to investigate a political opponent. He must be impeached.”
Pelosi, in a brief statement to reporters, said that the transcript raised serious issues and that Trump “will be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was one of the few Republican lawmakers to express dismay over what Trump said on the call.
“This remains deeply troubling, and we will see where it leads, but the first reaction is troubling,” Romney said in an appearance at The Atlantic Festival in Washington.
Indeed, the context of the transcript shows that although there was no explicit promise made by Trump for aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens, the president did remind Zelensky that the U.S. has been “very. very good” to Ukraine, more so than European countries. Zelensky had expressed the need for military aid.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that “the notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damaging that I or many others had imagined.”
“What those notes reflect is a classic, mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader,” he said.
He called for the full whistleblower report to be turned over to Congress.
Biden is in Los Angeles today, with a schedule that includes a series of fundraisers and an appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live.
The focus on Biden centers on the role that his son, Hunter, had while his father was Vice President. Biden called for Ukraine to fire a prosecutor because he was not doing enough to investigate corruption. Hunter Biden was a director of a Ukrainian gas company. But there is no evidence that Biden’s actions were to protect his son, as Trump and Giuliani have alleged.
The Justice Department declined to open a criminal investigation into whether Trump may have violated campaign finance law in the call, according to CNN. The inspector general for intelligence agencies had referred.
The broadcast networks aired special reports to cover the release of the transcript. Savannah Guthrie anchored for NBC, quickly going to its implications. NBC News analyst Jeremy Bash told her, “I don’t think that it is any more clear than that, that this conversation was about a trade, Defense support for support politically for the president.”
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