Trump sought inquiry of Biden son
President: Complaint about Ukraine came from partisan source
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged the new leader of Ukraine this summer to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a person familiar with the matter said Friday. Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political rival, now at the heart of an explosive whistleblower complaint against Trump.
It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration, which has refused to turn over the formal complaint by a national security official or even describe its contents.
Trump defended himself Friday against the intelligence official’s complaint, angrily declaring it came from a “partisan whistleblower,” though he also said he didn’t know who had made it. The complaint was based on a series of events, one of which was a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to a two people familiar with the matter. The people were not authorized to discuss the issue by name and were granted anonymity.
Trump, in that call, urged Zelenskiy to probe the activities of potential Democratic rival Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company, according to one of the people, who was briefed on the call. Trump did not raise the issue of U.S. aid to Ukraine, indicating there was not an explicit quid pro quo, according to the person.
Biden reacted strongly late Friday, saying that if the reports are true, “then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.”
He said Trump should release the transcript of his July phone conversation with Zelenskiy “so that the American people can judge for themselves.”
The government’s intelligence inspector general has described the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as “serious” and “urgent.” But Trump dismissed it all on Friday, insisting “it’s nothing.”
He scolded reporters for asking about it and said it was “just another political hack job.”
“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate. Always appropriate,” Trump said. “At the highest level always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country.”
Trump, who took questions in the Oval Office alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison whom he was hosting for a state visit, was asked if he knew if the whistleblower’s complaint centered on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy. The president responded, “I really don’t know,” but he continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was “perfectly fine and respectful.”
Trump was asked Friday if he brought up Biden in the call with Zelenskiy, and he answered, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.”
But then he used the moment to urge the media “to look into” Biden’s background with Ukraine.
Trump and Zelenskiy are to meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Trump pressed Zelenskiy about Biden.
The standoff with Congress raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president.
Democrats say the administration is legally required to give Congress access to the whistleblower’s complaint, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has said he will go to court in an effort to get it if necessary.
The intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership.
Schiff said Trump’s attack on the whistleblower was disturbing and raised concerns that it would have a chilling effect on other potential exposers of wrongdoing.
He also said it was “deeply disturbing” that the White House appeared to know more about the complaint than its intended recipient — Congress.
The information “deserves a thorough investigation,” Schiff said. “Come hell or high water, that’s what we’re going to do.”
House Democrats also are fighting the administration for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes.
In the whistleblower case, lawmakers are looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s reelection effort by investigating the activities of Biden’s son.
During a rambling interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. He initially said, “No, actually I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.”
Giuliani has spent months trying to drum up potentially damaging evidence about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. He told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions. “I did what I did on my own,” he said. “I told him about it afterward.
President Trump said he and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy are to meet next week on the sidelines of the U.N.