“No, I didn’t,” Trump said when asked whether he told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he would obtain $250 million in stalled U.S. aid only if he agreed to investigate the Bidens. Slamming the former vice president for doing what he said was a “very, very bad thing,” Trump added: “I didn’t do it … when you see the call [transcript], you’re going to be very surprised.”
Trump’s comments came a day after he appeared to confirm that he mentioned Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in the call with Zelensky. The call is part of the whistleblower’s complaint, according to people familiar with the matter.
Democrats are ramping up pressure on the Trump administration to release documents related to the Ukraine controversy. On Monday afternoon, the chairmen of three House committees sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatening subpoenas if the administration does not turn over the materials.
“Seeking to enlist a foreign actor to interfere with an American election undermines our sovereignty, democracy, and the Constitution, which the president is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam D. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said in the letter.
They argued that Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, “now appear to be openly engaging in precisely this type of abuse of power involving the Ukrainian government ahead of the 2020 election.”
Since spring, Giuliani has pushed the Ukrainians to investigate a gas tycoon who had Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma Holdings starting in 2014. According to the New York Times, Hunter Biden was paid as much as $50,000 some months for his work.
The nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause also on Monday filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice on the matter. The organization accused Trump and Giuliani of illegally soliciting a political contribution from Zelensky and Ukranian officials by allegedly urging them to investigate Biden.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, accused Democrats of politicizing the whistleblower complaint. He made no mention of Trump’s alleged actions but argued that the Senate Intelligence Committee should be allowed to deal with the matter “in a secure setting with adequate protections in a bipartisan fashion.”
Trump has repeatedly raised the specter of impropriety on the part of Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that Trump pushed Zelensky to investigate, according to people familiar with the matter.
Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has been unwilling to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress, a refusal that has rankled Democrats and heightened calls to impeach Trump. The whistleblower, whose identity has not been publicly disclosed, is said to be a U.S. intelligence official.
Questioned by reporters during a one-on-one meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda earlier Monday, Trump insisted that he “put no pressure on them whatsoever,” as public scrutiny continued to mount on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky during which Trump purportedly pressed the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Bidens.
“I hope you get to see the call,” Trump said, referring to a transcript of the conversation that he has faced pressure to release. “I did not make a statement that, ‘You have to do this or I’m not going to give you A.’ I wouldn’t do that.”
Still, Trump was noncommittal on whether the transcript of that call would be released, telling reporters that it would not set a good precedent. And he escalated his attacks on Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“If that ever happened, if a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they’d be getting the electric chair right now,” Trump said.
Earlier, he had questioned the patriotism of the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump had put the focus on the July 25 call.
“Also, who is this so-called ‘whistleblower’ who doesn’t know the correct facts,” Trump said in a tweet as he attended a United Nations gathering in New York. “Is he on our Country’s side. Where does he come from.”
Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the United Nations, Trump also appeared to acknowledge that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was part of the conversation.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump said in response to a question from a reporter about the contents of the call. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country you think is corrupt? One of the reasons the new president got elected is he was going to stop corruption, so it’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.”
Trump said that he is not worried about impeachment and that “the one who’s got the problem is Biden.”
“What Biden did is a disgrace,” Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that he said nothing wrong during the call, on Sunday characterizing it as “perfect.”
Democrats say asking Ukraine to find damaging information on a potential 2020 rival could amount to another attempt to involve a foreign power in U.S. elections. Intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump, a claim the president denies.
In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine to push for the firing of its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. On that trip, Biden said the United States would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees unless Shokin was removed.
Biden’s push was part of a broader international effort to fight corruption in Ukraine, and Shokin had been accused of ignoring major misconduct. Shokin, at one point, led an investigation into Burisma Holdings. However, the case had been dormant before the prosecutor’s firing, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials, and the U.S. ambassador at the time publicly called for the investigation in Burisma to proceed.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who met with Zelensky in Ukraine in early September, said Monday that the Ukrainian president directly expressed concern that military aid was being cut off to his country by Trump as “a consequence” of his unwillingness to launch an investigation into the Bidens.
Speaking at a news conference, Murphy said that Zelensky was resisting the investigation because “they thought there was no merit to it” and that Zelensky asked him “to intervene to unlock the aid.”
Murphy called Trump’s efforts “a fundamentally corrupt act” but cautioned on focusing on whether there was “an explicit quid pro quo.”
“I don’t think it really matters whether there was a quid pro quo … whether the president explicitly told the Ukrainians that they wouldn’t get their security aid if they didn’t interfere in the 2020 elections,” Murphy said. “There is an implicit threat in every demand that a United States president makes of a foreign power.”
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to McConnell demanding several steps related to Trump’s call with Zelensky, including a release of the transcript.
Schumer also asked for Senate hearings on the matter and the issuance of a subpoena to compel the delivery of the whistleblower complaint to Congress.
“So far, we have no indication that Senate Republicans are planning to act,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor Monday afternoon. “Most have yet to speak out. The Senate Republican see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude is unacceptable and must change. This, again, is an issue of solemn obligation.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday that the actions by Biden merit more scrutiny but also urged Trump to release more details about his call with Zelensky.
“I would urge him to continue to be as transparent as possible and tell us as much as he can without compromising executive privilege, so that we can understand what happened,” Graham told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, adding: “I believe that President Trump is going to blow you away with his willingness to disclose and be transparent about this phone call, because I think he did nothing wrong, and he has nothing to hide.”
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was noncommittal when asked whether Trump plans to release a transcript of his call with Zelensky.
“When foreign leaders come together to speak, they need to be able to speak candidly, so I do think that perhaps releasing this kind of transcript could set a bad precedent,” Grisham said on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” “He’s willing to do it, I think, but there’s a lot of other people, lawyers and such, that may have a problem with it, so we’ll see what happens.”
Trump told reporters on Sunday that he would “love to” release the transcript but that others in his administration are “a little shy” about it.
In an exchange with reporters outside the White House on Sunday before departing for events in Texas and Ohio, Trump appeared to suggest that he did speak about Biden with Zelensky.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said. “And Ukraine, Ukraine’s got a lot of problems.”
Later, in Houston, Trump appeared to backtrack, saying, “I don’t even want to mention it, but certainly I’d have the right to” raise Biden’s name with Zelensky.
Sonmez and Wagner reported from Washington. Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane contributed to this report.