WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pressed Ukraine’s president to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the U.S. attorney general to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden and his family, according to a memo of their July 25 call released Wednesday.
The memo shows that Trump repeatedly asked President Volodymyr Zelensky to assist Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr’s probe of unconfirmed allegations that Biden shielded his son Hunter from a Ukrainian prosecutor’s investigation.
Trump did not directly offer a quid pro quo. But Trump called Zelensky a week after suspending $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, and in response to Zelensky expressing interest in buying U.S.-made anti-tank missiles, Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor.”
Trump at first asked Zelensky to cooperate in the U.S. Justice Department’s review of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, but then he turned to the Bidens.
“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,” Trump told Zelensky, “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.”
At another point, Trump said, “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I'm sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor.”
Trump said on Wednesday that “it turned out to be a nothing call” and denied he had tried to pressure Zelensky. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and nearly all Republicans came to Trump’s defense. “To impeach any president over a phone call would be insane,” Graham said.
Sitting next to Trump at the United Nations, Zelensky tried to defer reporters’ questions, saying, “I think you read the text." He characterized the conversation as “a good phone call, it was normal.” Then he added, “I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed it, pushed me.”
Democrats took a darker view of the memo.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the memo of the conversation reflects “a classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader.”
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said those notes “confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry,” a day after she announced initiating a formal inquiry based on Trump’s seeking help from a foreign entity for his political benefit.
She also cited the Trump administration’s refusal to turn over to Congress an intelligence officer’s whistleblower complaint that reportedly includes the Trump-Zelensky conversation despite a law that requires it to be turned over to the intelligence committees.
The White House reportedly moved to give the committees the complaint on Thursday afternoon, a day before Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, was scheduled to appear before a House Intelligence Committee about the whistleblower.
Maguire blocked the complaint from being given to Congress, even though his inspector general, Michael Atkinson, found it to be “credible” and “urgent” — the factors the law cites in requiring that the complaint be shared with lawmakers.
Trump’s reference to Barr raised questions about the appropriateness of the chief law enforcement officer talking to foreign officials about an investigation of a political rival of the president.
But Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement that Barr has not spoken with the president or Giuliani about a Ukrainian probe of the Bidens and has not communicated with Ukraine on this or any other subject.
In the call, Zelensky repeatedly assures Trump of their friendship and his willingness to help him with the investigation. Zelensky assured Trump his aides had talked with Giuliani, and even volunteered he had stayed at Trump Tower in a visit to New York City.
“I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the president of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly,” Zelensky said.
Trump replied, “Good because 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.”
Giuliani and Trump allege that when Biden was vice president he pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, by withholding $1 billion in loan guarantees because he was investigating Ukraine’s largest private gas company, Burisma, which had added Hunter Biden to its board.
Biden admitted in 2018 that he had successfully threatened to withhold that money if they did not fire the prosecutor.
But contemporary reporting said that the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Shokin under pressure from international donors after the United States and other Western nations had called for his ouster for turning a blind eye to corruption.
Shokin’s successor, Yuri Lutsenko, told Bloomberg News that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
PARTIAL EXCERPTS FROM CONVERSATION BETWEEN PRESIDENT TRUMP AND UKRAINE PRESIDENT ZELENSKY
TRUMP: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. 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.........I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it's something that you should really ask them about.
ZELENSKY: I'm very grateful to you for that because the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine. Much more than the European Union especially when we are talking about sanctions against the Russian Federation. I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes..... We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.
TRUMP: Good because 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. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, 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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.
ZELENSKY: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand and I'm knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.
TRUMP: I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I'm sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, their incredible people.
ZELENSKY: I also wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation