President Donald Trump pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in coordination with the U.S. attorney general and Trump’s personal lawyer, according to a summary of a momentous telephone call released by the Trump administration on Wednesday.
The official account of the half-hour July call laid bare an astonishing exchange of requests, pledges and ingratiation, including some unrelated to Biden, such as when Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “to do us a favour” involving a controversy arising from the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
The summary was released a day after House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democratic-led chamber was launching an official impeachment inquiry, setting up a dramatic political showdown that threatens Trump’s presidency even as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.
The details of the July 25 call drew furious reactions from Democrats, who accused Trump of soliciting Ukraine’s help to smear Biden, the front-runner among Democratic candidates seeking to challenge the Republican president next year.
The call occurred after Trump had ordered a freeze of nearly $400 million in American aid to Ukraine, which the administration only later released.
“What those notes reflect is a classic Mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader,” Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said.
According to the summary, Trump told Zelenskiy that Attorney General William Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani would speak to him about re-opening a Ukrainian investigation into a Ukrainian gas company for which Biden’s son Hunter had served as director.
“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,” Trump said, referring to Barr.
In the summary, Trump never explicitly told Zelenskiy that U.S. aid was contingent upon him investigating Biden, but Trump emphasized the importance of American support before pressing him for action on Biden.
“I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine,” Trump said. Trump then said German Chancellor Angela Merkel “doesn’t do anything” for Ukraine but that “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
According to the summary, Zelenskiy responds that Trump is “1,000%” right, thanks Trump for “your great support in the area of defence” and expresses interest in making another U.S. arms purchase.
In raising the Biden issue, Trump told Zelenskiy that “I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair.” Trump said he would have Giuliani – a political ally with no formal role in the U.S. government – and Barr call him.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said.
Zelenskiy assured Trump that his next prosecutor general “will be 100% my person” and “will look into the situation.”
Zelenskiy, a former comedian, then volunteered that the last time he visited the United States, “I stayed at the Trump Tower,” one of the president’s businesses.
“I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation,” Zelenskiy added.
After Zelenskiy’s promise, Trump invites him to visit the White House, saying, “Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call.”