President Donald Trump was barraged with questions about what he said in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after reports that a whistleblower sounded the alarm over a conversation between the president and a foreign leader.
The story and its underlying mystery have captivated news outlets, particularly with the implication that the whistleblower was warning that Trump had promised to release aid to Ukraine if the country investigated former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential rival in 2020. That revelation that would be an explosive new scandal.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump did not say whether he talked about Biden during the conversation with Zelensky, other than to say that it was “totally appropriate.” He said that the whistleblower was “partisan,” but that he did not know who it is.
“It doesn’t matter what I discussed,” Trump said.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Trump asked the Ukranian president about eight times in a July phone call to investigate Biden’s son, Hunter, who was a director of a Ukrainian gas company when his father was vice president. The Journal reported that Trump did not mention foreign aid on the call.
Speaking to reporters, Trump again called the media “fake news” and a “joke,” while predicting that the story would turn out to be nothing.
“You have had a very bad week,” Trump told the reporters gathered. “And this will be better than all of them. Another one. So keep playing it up, because you are going to look really bad when it falls.”
Appearing with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Trump said that “the media of our country is laughed at all over the world right now.”
A week ago, the media picked up on the existence of the whistleblower complaint after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, subpoenaed the whistleblower complaint from the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire. But Maguire refused, and for the next five days, there was little information as to what the complaint was about.
CNN and other outlets reported that the White House and the Justice Department are working to restrict the release of the whistleblower complaint to Congress.
On Wednesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the complaint had to do with a conversation that Trump had with a foreign leader. In a press conference Thursday, Schiff said that the inspector general for the intelligence community, would not reveal the contents of the complaint but said that he found it “urgent” and “credible.”
The Post reported on Thursday evening that the complaint involved interactions with Ukraine, a new detail that triggered a new wave of speculation among experts and pundits over what was said in the president’s conversations with Zelensky.
But the story gained a life beyond mere surmising when Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show and sparred with the host, again chiding the media for its focus on the Trump administration and not doing enough of investigating of Biden. During the contentious interview (watch it below), Cuomo asked Giuliani whether he asked Ukraine to look into Biden.
“Of course I did!” Giuliani said.
“You just said you didn’t!” Cuomo responded.
“No, I didn’t ask him to look into Joe Biden, I asked them to look into the allegations that were related to my client, which were tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery scam,” Giuliani said.
Later, Giuliani wrote on Twitter, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well-known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job. Maybe if Obama did that the Biden Family wouldn’t have bilked millions from Ukraine and billions from China; being covered up by a Corrupt Media.”
Politifact looked into the claims against Biden in May. At the time that Hunter Biden worked as a director of the Ukrainian gas company, the elder Biden, as vice president, urged Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor with the threat of withholding U.S. aid, but “that was the position of the wider U.S. government, as well as other international institutions.”
“We found no evidence to support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son’s interests in mind, as the message suggests,” the site concluded. “It’s not even clear that the company was actively under investigation or that a change in prosecutors benefited it.”
The site did find that Hunter Biden’s role at the energy did create a conflict of interest for Biden, but Biden’s campaign has denied that he ever discussed anything related to the company.