President Donald Trump repeatedly pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July phone call to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of leading Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Trump brought up the point again and again – a total of about eight times, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday afternoon, as a whistleblower’s complaint about a call with an unnamed foreign leader was morphing into a political scandal.
Trump was referencing an investigation of a Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden served on the board for five years. He also brought up his personal lawyer Rudy Giuiliani, who had delivered his own messages to Ukrainian officials.
The president ‘told him that he should work with [Giuliani] on Biden, and that people in Washington wanted to know’ if the allegations were true, a person familiar with the call told the Wall Street Journal.
However, the person didn’t believe Trump was dangling $250 million in U.S. military aide to Ukraine that the White House had been holding up as a quid-pro-quo.
Amid the increased scrutiny of his and Giuliani’s Ukraine contacts and amid a brewing scandal over a whistleblower’s claim that he made a ‘promise’ to a foreign leader, Trump will meet Zelensky next week.
The president is set to meet one-on-one with Zelensky during the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, and will hold a press conference afterward, the administration said Friday.
Word of the meeting comes after the president furiously denied having done anything wrong in a call with a world leader – while also saying that Vice President Joe Biden should be investigated.
A senior administration official specifically mentioned the ‘combating corruption’ as a part of the meeting – an indication the White House plans to stand firm in its defense of the propriety of Trump’s interactions with his Ukrainian counterpart.
‘President Trump is going to focus on congratulating President Zelensky on his election victories and the incredible energy and success President Zelensky has put forward in combatting corruption efforts,’ said a senior administration official on a briefing call with reporters.
The official said the two leaders would talk about ‘opportunities to expand trade opportunities,’ and Trump’s concerns about China’s predatory economic activities toward Ukrainian intellectual property. The official said Crimea is lawfully part of Ukraine and is being unlawfully occupied by Russia. Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 triggered economic sanctions against Russia that Moscow continues to demand be ended.
Vice President Joe Biden didn’t address the explosive story until early evening Friday.
Biden said in a statement ‘there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.’
‘This behavior is particularly abhorrent because it exploits the foreign policy of our country and undermines our national security for political purposes. It means that he used the power and resources of the United States to pressure a sovereign nation—a partner that is still under direct assault from Russia—pushing Ukraine to subvert the rule of law in the express hope of extracting a political favor,’ said Biden.
“Such clear-cut corruption damages and diminishes our institutions of government by making them tools of a personal political vendetta. At minimum, Donald Trump should immediately release the transcript of the call in question, so that the American people can judge for themselves, and direct the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to stop stonewalling and release the whistleblower notification to the Congress,’ Biden concluded.
The White House has been gearing up for days to do battle on the issue. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has been involved since the blow-up over the whistleblower, helping provide legal reasoning to withhold information from the House intelligence Committee, the Washington Post reported.
Trump’s own defense of his conduct follows reports that he may have pressured the Ukrainian government in Kiev to investigate Biden, who is leading Democratic presidential polls. Democratic House committees are investigating Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.
The July call led to a statement from the Ukrainian government that Trump ‘is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.’
The language leaves open the possibility the president did demand a ‘corruption’ investigation – which Democrats are saying could be a serious breach of constitutional authority.
Although a source told the Journal the president did not brandish the threat of military funding, the administration weeks ago said it might hold back the aid. A former U.S. official told the New York Times the U.S. suspended the aid in early July. The paper reported the government in Kiev didn’t learn the funds were suspended until August.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a stark statement Friday on the whistleblower standoff, which has put House Democrats against the Trump administration in a fight for information again.
‘If the President has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his Administration and our democracy,’ she said.
Last week, the White House decided to release its hold on $250 million in Ukrainian military aid.
Trump angrily proclaimed his innocence on Friday after his director of national intelligence blocked Congress from knowing about a whistle-blower’s complaint alleging high-level misconduct, possibly related to the president trying to use Ukraine to damage Joe Biden.
Speaking to reporters alongside Australian Prime Minster Scott Morrison, Trump called the story ‘ridiculous’ and insisted it was driven by a ‘partisan’ accuser.
He also termed accounts of the episode a ‘political hack-job.’
But he admitted: ‘I don’t know the identity of the whistle-blower. I just hear it’s a partisan person, meaning it comes from another [political] party.’
News reports have suggested the president pressured Ukrainian President Zelensky in a phone call to aggressively prosecute former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, on corruption charges and used military aid as leverage.
Trump said Friday that ‘it doesn’t matter what i discussed,’ and insisted that ‘someone ought to look into Joe Biden.’
‘Fake news doesn’t look into things like that,’ he carped, hinting at media partisanship. ‘You wouldn’t because he’s a Democrat.’
The president wouldn’t confirm that his July 25 phone call with Zelensky was in fact at the center of the brewing scandal, and not some other contact with a foreign leader.
‘I really don’t know,’ he said.