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Opinion What did Trump tell Ukraine’s president?

President Trump in the Oval Office on Jan. 28, 2017.
President Trump in the Oval Office on Jan. 28, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AP)

IT MAY be some time before Congress is informed of the substance of a complaint by an intelligence community whistleblower, thanks to the Trump administration's stonewalling. But if reporting by The Post and the New York Times is correct, it touches on a matter already under congressional investigation: an apparent attempt by President Trump to coerce the government of Ukraine into investigating his political opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Whatever the outcome of the dispute over the whistleblower's report, the congressional probes now must be accelerated. If the accounts we've heard are accurate, Mr. Trump is guilty of a gross abuse of his office.

Much about the president’s interaction with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is already in the public record. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has acknowledged that he met in Madrid with a designated associate of Mr. Zelensky this summer and urged the government to reopen an investigation of Mr. Biden, whose son Hunter had done business in Ukraine. Never mind that the charges had already been found to be spurious. Mr. Giuliani also demanded a probe of the 2016 revelations of payments by a Ukrainian political party to Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, which Mr. Trump believes were part of a plot to wreck his candidacy.

Mr. Giuliani’s intervention reportedly came after a July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky during which Mr. Trump said he was “convinced the new Ukrainian government would be able to . . . complete the investigations of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA,” according to a Ukrainian government account. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump held up $250 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress, even after a Pentagon review he ordered concluded it should be disbursed. He also refused to extend a White House invitation to Mr. Zelensky, a pro-Western reformer who is trying to defend his country from Russian aggression.

As we previously wrote, we have been reliably told that Mr. Trump made a connection between the Biden and Manafort investigations he wanted and the aid to Ukraine. In meetings to discuss the new government, he railed about the cases. In a television interview Thursday night, Mr. Giuliani all but confirmed this account. “The reality is the president of the United States has every right to say to another leader of a foreign country, ‘you got to straighten up before we give you a lot of money,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said on CNN. “It is perfectly appropriate for [Trump] to ask a foreign government to investigate this massive crime that was made by a former vice president.”

No, it is not appropriate. For the president to use congressionally appropriated military aid as leverage to pressure another government to investigate one of his potential opponents in the 2020 election is a blatant misuse of power. If Mr. Trump promised aid in exchange for an investigation, it would represent direct collusion with a foreign government to help his reelection campaign. If the White House is now attempting to block investigation by Congress of that act by illegally withholding the whistleblower’s complaint, that would be another major offense.

Though the White House surely will continue to stonewall, the three House committees that already announced an investigation of the Ukraine affair must pursue it as aggressively as possible. We hope it will be a bipartisan effort. Republicans as well as Democrats ought to be anxious to determine just what transpired between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky.

Read more:

Max Boot: If Trump extorted a foreign leader for political gain, it’s impeachment time

The Post’s View: Trump tries to force Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election

Jennifer Rubin: What might finally ensnare Trump

Harry Litman: A whistleblower filed a complaint to the intelligence IG. Why is it being withheld from Congress?

The Post’s View: The Trump administration cannot withhold a whistleblower complaint from Congress