Sept. 25 (UPI) — The White House released a transcript Wednesday of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that’s at the center of a congressional impeachment investigation.
House Democrats are examining the call to determine whether Trump threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for Zelensky’s government investigating the family of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Tens of millions in military aid was ultimately released to Ukraine this month, but investigators want to know what prompted Trump to threaten to withhold payment.
According to the five-page transcript, there were several references to Joe Biden, but neither Trump nor Zelensky discussed authorized military aid payments. They did discuss the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company between 2014 and early this year.
“I would like to have [U.S.] Attorney General [William Barr] call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said in the July 25 phone call. “As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.
“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,” Trump added. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … it sounds horrible to me.
“I will have Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call you and we will get to the bottom of it.”
The release came hours before Trump and Zelensky met in person in New York City on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The Ukrainian leader told reporters during a pool spray that he didn’t feel pressured to investigate Biden during the phone call.
“Nobody pushed me,” he said. “Good phone call. It was normal.”
Scrutiny over the phone call began last week when a whistle-blower in the intelligence community filed a complaint with the office of the director of national intelligence about a July phone conversation Trump and Zelensky had.
Trump and Giuliani have both said they have encouraged Ukraine — in other conversations — to carry out an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. They accused the two men of pressuring Ukraine to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma, a gas company for which Hunter Biden served on the board.
Shokin’s successor, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko told Bloomberg in May that the investigation into the company began before Hunter Biden joined the board, and he wasn’t specifically a target of the probe. Additionally, Bloomberg reported the investigation into Burisma ended more than a year before Joe Biden called for the ouster of Shokin.
Multiple Western countries, including the United States, had called for Shokin’s removal due to allegations of corruption.
Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said he received a copy of the complaint the whistle-blower lodged about the Ukraine phone call. He said he was reading the document and declined to provide CNN with a statement about its substance.
Pelosi on Tuesday accused acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire of unconstitutionally preventing the DNI inspector general from handing over the full complaint to congressional intelligence committees.
The House on Wednesday approved a resolution calling on the Trump administration to release the complaint to lawmakers.
Trump said he “fully” supports transparency on the whistle-blower allegations during a news conference after his U.N. meetings in New York City on Wednesday. He also denied that he pressured Zelensky.
“I didn’t threaten anybody,” he said.
“And the Democrats did this hoax during the United Nations week. It was perfect,” Trump added. “Because this way it takes away from the tremendous achievements that we’re taking care of doing that we’re involved in.”
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said after the phone call transcript was released that Trump has committed “persistent transgressions.”
“If we don’t reckon with President Donald Trump’s persistent transgressions, the very foundation of this republic is at risk,” he said. “We need all the facts.”
“Folks, I am surprised the White House even released this transcript,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said. “It’s worse than we thought. The president sought to use the powers of the United States government to investigate a political opponent. We have no choice but to impeach.”
Zelensky also said in the call he wants to start a new level of cooperation between Washington and Kiev, and mentioned a new prosecutor will be put in place. He also mentioned he stayed at Trump Tower when he visited New York City.
“The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case,” Zelensky said.
“I guarantee as the president of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly.”
Zelensky also said one of his staff talked with Giuliani recently and the two planned to meet soon, and that he recalled Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States to replace him with a “very competent and very experienced ambassador.”
Trump also said the United States has proved a better ally to Ukraine than Germany.
“All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about,” Trump told Zelensky. “When I was speaking to [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine but she doesn’t do anything … the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
Zelensky mentioned Ukraine is buying U.S. oil and is “almost ready” to buy more Javelin missiles from the U.S. military for defense purposes.
Trump started the phone call by congratulating Zelensky on his win in Ukraine’s recent election, and spoke of “draining the swamp” when he took office.
“We worked a lot but I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you,” Zelensky said. “We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and were able to use it as an example for our elections and yes it is true that these were unique elections.”
Ukraine elected Zelensky as president in April with 72.7 percent of the vote in his favor over former President Pedro Poroshenko. The former stand-up comedian campaigned on the promise to fight corruption and pledged to strip lawmakers and judges of legal immunity.
“I am not a politician,” Zelensky said during the campaign. “I am just a simple person who has come to break down the system.”
The pair finished the call by discussing a possible meeting in Poland.
“We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine,” Zelensky said.