President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and his attorney general to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s role in the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor, according to a five-page partial transcript of a call between the two leaders released by the White House on Wednesday.
“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 told Zelensky in the July 25 call.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me,” Trump added.
The Ukrainian president then assured Trump that he would be installing his own prosecutor and officials and said he “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.”
It’s unclear if he was referring to Joe Biden or Crowdstrike, a company with ties to the Russia investigation that Trump raised earlier in the call.
Biden’s name is mentioned three times on the call and Giuliani’s name comes up five times, according to the document, which is titled formally as a “memorandum of telephone conversation.” The document makes clear it is not a verbatim transcript of the conversation.
Trump told Zelensky on the call that he would have Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr talk to him.
“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,” Trump said.
The Justice Department subsequently said Wednesday that Trump never asked Barr to contact Ukraine or encourage Ukraine to investigate matters related to Biden or his son, Hunter.
The White House released the document a day after House Democrats formally launched an impeachment inquiry against the president that was triggered by his dealings with Ukraine.
The president had vowed to release a transcript of the conversation and said it would make clear that he did nothing wrong, but the pages released by the White House seemed likely to give some arguments to Democrats.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a Judiciary Committee member, tweeted shortly after the memo’s release that “nearly every line describes a shocking abuse of power.”
The transcript is likely to further fuel calls for impeachment, given Trump clearly requests a probe into Biden, who is running for president in 2020.
Many Democrats have argued that Trump raising an investigation of a political rival on a call with a foreign leader is sufficient proof of wrongdoing, even if there was no explicit quid pro quo.
The Justice Department released a statement Wednesday saying that Barr, who is also mentioned on the call, was first notified of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky “several weeks” after it took place.
“The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine – on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine – on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani,” Justice Department spokesman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
Democrats are concerned that Trump pressured a foreign government to look into a political opponent, and that he may have used U.S. military aide as leverage.
While Trump highlights how the U.S. provides aid to Ukraine and expresses frustration that France and Germany don’t contribute more, the transcript does not contain any explicit quid pro quo in which Trump directly ties aid for Ukraine to opening an investigation into the Bidens.
However, the document does show the Ukrainian leader thanking the U.S. for help on defense, with Trump subsequently requesting “a favor” before asking him to look into Biden.
Trump defended the call while speaking to reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly shortly after the memo’s release, arguing it showed he applied “no pressure” to Zelensky.
“The letter was a great letter, meaning the letter revealing the call that was done at the insistence of myself and other people that read it. It was a friendly letter, there was no pressure,” he said.
“The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said ‘I never knew you could be so nice,” Trump added.
Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, claimed the transcript showed Democrats had “leapt to conclusions” before examining the facts.
“There was no quid pro quo and nothing to justify the clamor House Democrats caused yesterday. The real danger here is that Democrats keep using baseless accusations in hopes of crippling a successful presidency,” Collins said.
The transcript release is unlikely to satisfy Democrats and some Republicans who have called for access to the full whistleblower complaint filed in August that raised concerns about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. Lawmakers have yet to see that complaint, but the White House is expected to turn it over this week.
The Justice Department said that it received a referral related to the whistleblower complaint that cited Trump’s call with Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law. The Justice Department reviewed the record of the call but declined to further investigate after determining there was no such violation, Kupec, the Justice Department spokesman, said.
The 30-minute call begins with Trump congratulating Zelensky on his election victory earlier in the year.
Zelensky speaks flatteringly of Trump on the call. He tells the president that he hopes to “drain the swamp,” a reference to Trump’s own 2016 mantra, and complains that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled in May, supported the previous president.
“It was great that you were the first one. who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 percent,” Zelensky said.
At the end of the call Trump also offered to host Zelensky at the White House, telling him, “Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that out.”
Trump and his allies have latched onto Biden’s connection to Ukraine as the former vice president seeks the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in 2020.
Hunter Biden worked on the board of a natural gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch while his father served as vice president. Joe Biden pushed in 2016 for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who had been accused of overlooking corruption in his own office, threatening to withhold money if the prosecutor was not fired.
There’s no indication Joe Biden was acting with his son’s interests in mind and the former vice president has denied doing so. But Trump and his allies, including Giuliani, have pushed for an investigation into the Bidens in Ukraine and decried the former vice president as “corrupt.”
The revelations of the call are likely to reverberate beyond Washington in the coming hours.
Trump will meet with Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly later Wednesday, and is scheduled to hold a press conference at 4 p.m. in New York, where he’s certain to confront a barrage of questions about the details of the memo.