President Donald Trump, appearing side-by-side with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, insisted there was “no pressure” behind his request for Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son.
Trump, meeting with Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, vigorously defended his phone call with Zelensky, a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry over the summer exchange.
Trump, speaking to reporters hours after the White House released a memo summarizing his July 25 call with Zelensky, insisted there was nothing improper in calling for Zelensky to investigate Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, days after Trump ordered $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine to be withheld.
“There was no pressure,” Trump told reporters repeatedly at his first face-to-face meeting with Zelensky.
Congressional Democrats, pointing to the White House memo of the call, in which Trump calls on Zelensky for a “favor,” argue that Trump illicitly asked a foreign power to collect political dirt on U.S. citizens. Trump, according to a memo of the call, asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and CrowdStrike, a technology firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hacking of its email system during the 2016 presidential election.
Ukraine’s current prosecutor has said Hunter Biden has not been accused of wrongdoing in his role as a board member of a Ukrainian gas company. The president has sought to cast a cloud of doubt over Hunter Biden's work for the company during his father's time as vice president.
Zelensky, asked by reporters if he felt pressured by Trump to open an investigation, initially deferred to the memo of their call, and said he didn’t “want to be involved” in the U.S. elections.
“I think you read everything. … I think you read text,” Zelensky told reporters. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved [in the] democratic, open elections, elections of USA.”
Zelensky said the phone call with Trump was “good” and “normal,” adding that “I think you have read it, that nobody … pushed me.”
Trump, speaking to reporters earlier in the day following a meeting focused on Venezuela, cast the call with Zelensky as a “nothing call.”
"The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell," Trump said. "It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, 'I never knew you could be so nice.' "
Speaking at an afternoon news conference, Trump mocked Democrats for opening an impeachment inquiry over the call.
“Impeachment for that? When you have a wonderful meeting, a wonderful phone conversation?” Trump said.
Trump said he was open to releasing additional transcripts of an earlier call with Zelensky and conversations between Vice President Mike Pence and Zelensky.
Asked if he was prepared for a drawn-out impeachment saga, Trump said he thought the prospect of impeachment had ended with the culmination of special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year probe into Russian election interference and alleged acts by the president to obstruct the investigation.
Mueller concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish conspiracy and coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the longtime prosecutor held off on issuing a legal opinion on 11 alleged attempts by Trump to obstruct the Justice Department’s investigation. Mueller in public remarks has said the report did not exonerate the president of wrongdoing.
“I thought it was dead,” Trump said of impeachment talk.