Memo reveals more of Trump’s Ukraine request
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump directly asked Ukraine’s president for a “favor” while discussing U.S. military aid to the besieged country, according to a White House memo of their July 25 phone call, suggesting a link that could be crucial to the Democrats’ fast-moving impeachment inquiry.
The details emerged as the Justice Department confirmed that the inspector general for the director of national intelligence had made a criminal referral about the call, questioning whether Trump had violated campaign finance law, but that department lawyers had determined he had not.
During the 30-minute call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy both to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election, and to look into CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that did work for the Democrats in the 2016 election. The technology company is based in Irvine but Trump apparently believed it operated from Ukraine.
Trump asked Zelenskiy at least five separate times on the call to work with Attorney General William Barr, putting the nation’s highest law enforcement official directly in the House inquiry into whether Trump abused his powers and jeopardized national security by pushing a foreign government to dig up dirt on a U.S. presidential candidate.
“Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Trump told Zelenskiy after mentioning Biden several times. The Justice Department said Wednesday that Barr was unaware of Trump’s request at the time and that he did not have any contact with Ukrainian officials about the president’s request for an investigation into Biden.
Trump also urged Zelenskiy several times to speak to Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. Although he is a private citizen, Giuliani has led the president’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
“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,” Trump said. “I’m sure you will figure it out.”
On Wednesday, a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DSan Francisco, announced the start of a formal House impeachment inquiry, the White House released what it called a non-verbatim transcript, five pages compiled by note takers in the White House Situation Room, of the call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
“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 on the call, according to the memo. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the
prosecution — so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.”
In 2016, Vice President Biden urged Ukraine’s government at the time to fire a prosecutor whom the Obama administration and its European allies deemed soft on corruption. The prosecutor had investigated the energy company that had hired Biden’s son, but that inquiry had already ended by the time the vice president got involved.
No evidence has emerged to show Biden sought to help his son, and neither the former vice president nor his son has been accused of any wrongdoing.
Biden later spoke publicly about withholding U.S. financial support for Ukraine unless the prosecutor was fired, but he did not brag about stopping a prosecution of the company.
In a statement Wednesday, Biden called it “a tragedy for this country that our president put personal politics above his sacred
oath” and said the attempt to involve Barr was an “attack on the core independence” of the Justice Department.
Trump argued Wednesday that his conversation with Zelenskiy was portrayed as the “call from hell,” but “it turned out to be a nothing call.”
Trump and Zelenskiy held an awkward public meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly several hours later. Zelenskiy joked that it was better meeting on television than by phone. He made clear he did not want to be involved in another country’s democratic elections.
“We had, I think, a good phone call,” Zelenskiy said. “Nobody pushed me.”
Zelenskiy looked at Trump with apparent shock when Trump urged him to work more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seized Crimea in 2014 and has backed separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine. Trump also directed blame at former President Barack Obama for Russia’s invasion, leveled more accusations against Biden and rehashed old charges about Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The latest allegations clearly unnerved Trump, who appeared listless and agitated during a rambling 40-minute news conference in the late afternoon in which he took only four questions and suggested to reporters that they also seek records of Vice President Mike Pence’s conversations with Zelenskiy.
“I thought we won. I thought it was dead,” Trump said, referring to the threat of impeachment that hovered over him during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s lengthy investigation over Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump accused Democratic senators of also pressuring Ukraine to help with an investigation, but that situation was different. In May last year, three Democratic senators wrote to the Ukrainian prosecutor general to “express great concern” that he may have stopped cooperating with Mueller.
The call memo shows Trump urged a foreign government to intervene in the 2020 election the morning after Mueller testified in Congress on July 24 about Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. Trump acknowledged this week that he held up delivery of nearly $400 million in military and State Department aid that had been approved by a bipartisan vote in Congress to help Ukraine counter aggression from Russia. The aid was finally released this month.
Trump denied that the twomonth delay in releasing the aid, which included anti-tank weapons and crucial communications systems for Ukraine’s embattled military, was meant to pressure Zelenskiy.