Investigating Joe Biden was understood to be a precondition to US President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, an adviser to the latter leader has claimed.
Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption advocate and former member of Ukraine’s Parliament who now advises Zelensky, told ABC News that the country’s struggling administration was eager to speak with the Trump administration about securing military aid after Zelensky took office in the spring.
Ukrainian officials quickly developed an understanding that any correspondence between the two presidents hinged on a discussion about digging up dirt on Trump’s rival, according to Leshchenko.
‘It was clear that Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case,’ he said.
‘This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.’
Leshchenko made the claim amid allegations that during a July 25 phone call Trump threatened to withhold military aid from the Ukraine unless Zelensky agreed to investigate whether Biden inappropriately pulled strings to help his son Hunter in the country.
Democrats called the alleged coercion by Trump ‘a staggering abuse of power’ and launched an official impeachment inquiry against the president on Tuesday night.
Hours later the White House released a transcript of the call, during which Trump repeatedly encouraged Zelensky to probe Biden’s role in the dismissal of Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, in 2016. At the time Shokin’s office was investigating the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings – where Hunter Biden was on the board.
The call did not contain an explicit statement tying the action for hundreds of millions in US military aid.
A furious Trump defended the ‘very nice call’ at a news conference on Wednesday and repeatedly attacked Democrats and the ‘dishonest’ media, who he claims are obsessed over the ‘witch hunt’.
‘Impeachment for that?’ Trump asked incredulously as he vowed ‘transparency’ and said he will likely release a transcript of his additional call with Zelensky.
He said when people look at the information he ordered released, ‘It’s a joke.’
Investigating Joe Biden was understood to be a precondition to US President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, an adviser to the latter leader claimed
Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption advocate and former member of Ukraine’s Parliament who now advises Zelensky, said: ‘It was clear that Trump will only have communications [with Zelensky] if they will discuss the Biden case. This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.’ Leshchenko is pictured above in 2016
A furious Trump defended the ‘very nice call’ at a news conference on Wednesday and repeatedly attacked Democrats and the ‘dishonest’ media, who he claims are obsessed over the ‘witch hunt’. ‘Impeachment for that?’ the president asked of the phone call
Trump referenced an earlier congratulatory call with Zelensky, who was elected this spring, as well as Vice President Mike Pence’s interactions with Ukraine.
‘That was the second conversation. I think you should ask for the first conversation also,’ he said. ‘I can’t believe they haven’t.’
‘You can have it any time you need it’ he said at one point.
His conversation came as the Ukraine affair was reaching out in multiple directions, including to the State Department, where the decision to remove the Obama-nominated ambassador to Ukraine was coming in for new scrutiny.
‘I think they should ask for Vice President Mike Pence’s conversation, one or two of them,’ he said. Pence traveled to Poland in August in Trump’s stead and said that the told the Ukrainians to focus on anti ‘corruption’ efforts.
‘They were perfect. They were all perfect,’ Trump said of Pence’s interactions with the Ukrainians.
Trump mocked the probe of his Ukraine actions, even as he seemed to lay out a few bread crumbs for his inquisitors.
Trump vowed ‘transparency’ and said he will likely release a transcript of his additional call with Zelensky. He said when people look at the information he ordered released, ‘It’s a joke’
‘Although I heard there is a rumor out there they want the first conversation. It was beautiful. It was just a perfect conversation. But I think you should do that. I think you should do – and i think you should ask for VP Pence’s conversation because he had a couple of conversations also. I could save you a lot of time – they were all perfect. Nothing was mentioned of any import other than congratulations,’ he said.
He inveighed against Democrats for pushing the issue while he was at the UN, although it was the White House that decided to release the call transcript Wednesday after holding back a whistle-blower’s complaint.
‘The Democrats did this hoax during the United Nations week. It was perfect Because this way it takes away from these tremendous achievements,’ he said.
‘It is very sad what the Democrats are doing to this country. They’re dividing. They’re belittling, they’re demeaning our country,’ he said.
Trump began his appearance by speaking for more than 20 minutes, touting his achievements while going after Democrats and the press.
Trump said he supports ‘transparency’ for the whistle-blower, whose claims the White House has previously prevented from being transmitted to Congress, while also demanding similar transparency for Democrats who have applied pressure to Ukraine.
He also complained repeatedly about his own treatment. ‘I used to be the king to getting good press I was very good at it. and I got good. They covered me well. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be here,’ he said. ‘And once I ran, I said boy, this is incredible. If you see the way they treat my family – used to be treated great. My family works so hard,’ he groused.
The White House on Wednesday released the bombshell transcript of Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine where Trump urges his counterpart to investigate Joe Biden and work directly with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani – and even brings up the DNC’s hacked email server.
But the transcript does not show Trump tying the investigation to aid for Ukraine as he spoke to Volodymyr Zelensky, the quid pro quo which some reports had suggested it contained.
The call forms part of the whistle-blower complaint from an unknown intelligence official which alleges a pattern of wrongdoing by the president in his dealings with Ukraine, but which has been blocked from being given to Congress.
The unprecedented publication of a transcript of a president’s call to a foreign leader is unprecedented was accompanied by two bombshell revelations from the Department of Justice, where officials said:
- The acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, referred the whistle-blower complaint to the Department of Justice for possible criminal investigation into Trump’s actions;
- The Justice Department, led by Attorney General Bill Barr, has already declined to criminally investigate the call – effectively clearing the president.
At the United Nations Donald Trump called Democratic plans to impeach him ‘a political war,’ and trashed critics who had suggested the phone call was evidence of wrongdoing.
Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he had directed the release of a ‘complete’ transcript of the July 25 phone call
Ftriends: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted a photo of himself and his wife Olena with President Trump and Melania Trump at a diplomatic reception Tuesday night
‘There was no pressure, the way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell,’ he said.
‘It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, I never knew you could be so nice.’
But Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, compared the call to a ‘classic mob shakedown.’
In the Senate, Republican Mitt Romney said it was ‘deeply troubling,’ but Trump ally Lindsey Graham aggressively defended it and said: ‘To impeach any president over a phone call like this would be insane.’
Clinton weighs in on impeachment
But Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in 2016, tweeted her endorsement of America’s harshest political penalty.
‘The president of the United States has betrayed our country. That’s not a political statement—it’s a harsh reality, and we must act,’ she said. ‘He is a clear and present danger to the things that keep us strong and free. I support impeachment.’
In the call, the president mentions political rival Biden by name, seeks an inquiry into a company tied to Biden’s surviving son, Hunter, and predicts Ukraine’s economy will do ‘better and better’ – but does not explicitly tie the United States’ aid to the country to the investigation he demands.
Ukraine links: Joe Biden made multiple trips there and demanded action on corruption; Hunter was on the board of a natural gas firm which faced money-laundering accusations
How Trump reacted: As well as speaking at the United Nations, he tweeted a link to a story by ultra-conservative news website Breitbart which accuses the Democrats of tying Ukraine aid to investigating him
2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said Trump has ‘betrayed our country’ and called for his impeachment
He urges the president to contact Giuliani, who this summer called off a planned mission to Ukraine after bringing up a Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board.
‘There is 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 says, according to the transcript.
‘Biden went about bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… it sounds horrible to me,’ the president told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Ukrainian president assured Trump: ‘The next prosecutor general will be 100 per cent my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start. As a new prosecutor in September.
THE FIVE KEY QUOTES FROM THE TRUMP-ZELENSKY PHONE CALL
Trump: ‘I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are ‘doing and they should be helping you more than they are.’
Trump: ‘I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it.’
Trump: ‘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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.’
Trump: ‘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.’
Zelensky: ‘I also wanted to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation.’
‘He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation.’
Flattering phone call
Ukraine’s president Zelensky said he wanted to ‘drain the swamp’ and called Trump a ‘great teacher for all of us,’ according to the transcript.
Trump told his counterpart: ‘I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.’
‘Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great,’ Trump said.
Democrats were already planning to scour the transcript for any suggestion of a quid-pro-quo – which Trump has explicitly denied offering.
The transcript shows no such direct linkage – although Trump does appear to mention a variety of ways in which Ukraine might benefit from acceding to his requests.
He tells Zelensky ‘I would like you do us a favor though’ when he asks him to find out what happened with the Democratic National Committee’s server – immediately after Zelensky thanked him for U.S. defense support and said he was about to buy American weaponry.
He appears to reference an unnamed oligarch when he says ‘I guess you have one of your wealthy people …’ without apparently finishing the thought.
U.S. security assistance mentioned
Trump does not appear to mention $250 million in security aid to Ukraine that the president later said he held up before making the call.
He does, however, say the U.S. does ‘a lot’ for Ukraine, and trashes Germany’s and the Europeans’ efforts.
‘I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about,’ Trump said.
He adds that German Chancellor Angela Merkel ‘doesn’t do anything.’ He said the U.S. ‘has been very, very good to Ukraine.’
He also trashes the Obama-nominated ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, who stayed over into his own administration. She is a career diplomat and remains a State Department employee.
‘The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news,’ Trump said, and the people she was dealing with in Ukraine ‘were bad news.’
In response, Zelenksy tells Trump that the new prosecutor will be ‘100 per cent my person, my candidate’ and promises: ‘He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned’ – meaning the one affiliated with Hunter Biden.
Zelensky also bashes Yovanovich, prompting Trump to answer: ‘Well, she’s going to go through some things.’
He also appeared to reference the the DNC server which was hacked before the 2016 election, asking Zelensky to ‘find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine.’
He asked Zelensky ‘to do us a favor’ by investigating whether Ukraine is in possession of computer data linked to hacking of a Democratic National Committee server in 2016.
In the hot seat: Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday as his call to Donald Trump was unveiled
Cleared: Bill Barr’s Justice Department declined to order a full criminal investigation into the president after both the Director of National Intelligence and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community referred the whistle-blower complaint to the attorney-general’s department
He mentioned Crowdstrike, a company that helped the Democratic National Committee manage its computer network when Russian agents penetrated it.
Trump has vented at his political rallies that the FBI in 2016 never made an effort to seize the server and analyze its contents.
‘I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it,’ Trump said in the July call with Zelensky.
WHAT THE CALL TRANSCRIPT REVEALS TRUMP SAID ON…
Robert Mueller in front of Congress:
– “An incompetent performance”
His own attorney Rudy Giuliani:
– “Very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy”
Joe Biden’s boast about firing previous Ukraine prosecutor:
– “It sounds horrible to me”
Fired U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich:
– “The woman, was bad news”
Prosecutor fired after Biden intervened:
– “I heard… he was a very fair prosecutor”
‘I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.’
The only person to directly bring up U.S. security aid for Ukraine at a time it was being held up is Zelensky – who says Ukraine is ‘ready to continue to cooperate for next steps.’
Ukraine desperately wants the aid as it continues to clash with Russia following its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea.
‘The United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine. Much more than the European Union especially when we are talking about sanctions against the Russian Federation,’ Zelensky said, mentioning U.S. imposed sanctions that Trump resisted when Congress tightened them after his election.
‘I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense,’ Zelensky continues. ‘We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes,’ he said, mentioning Javelin missiles, a portable anti-tank munition.
Zelensky flattered Trump and told him on his last trip to New York he stayed at Trump Tower.
He assured Trump: ‘We will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation.’
The two men talked about meeting on Trump’s then-planned trip to Poland. Zelensky suggested a joint trip to Ukraine. ‘We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine,’ Zelensky said.
Zelensky appears with Trump and says the call was ‘normal’
During a joint availability with Trump at the UN, Zelensky characterized their conversation as ‘normal.’
‘I think you read everything. I think you read text. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved to Democratic … elections, elections of USA. No, sure, we had – I think good phone call,’ he said, while seated beside Trump. ‘It was normal. We spoke about many things, and I – so I think and you read it that nobody pushed me. Yes.’
Trump jumped in: ‘In other words, no pressure.’ Trump then teed off on Hunter Biden and said Ukraine may somehow be in possession of 33,000 emails Hillary Clinton deleted from her home server.
He referenced a business contract Hunter Biden obtained. ‘When Biden’s son walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund and the biggest funds in the world can’t get money out of China, and he’s there for one quick meeting and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think that’s a horrible thing,’ Trump said.
Trump said Zelensky was doing the ‘whole world a big favor’ by investigating corruption.
‘Stop corruption in Ukraine because that will really make you great. That will make you great personally and it will also be so tremendous for your nation in terms of what you want to do and where you want to take it,’ Trump said.
Zelenksy tried to stay out of the fray. ‘Remember, we are the biggest country in Europe, but we want to be the richest one,’ he said.
Trump defended personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is under fire for his personal contracts with Ukraine to try to get at the start of the Russia probe and glean information about the Bidens.
‘I will tell you this, that Rudy’s looking to also find out where the phony witch-hunt started, how it started. You had a Russian witch hunt turned out to be two and a half years of phony nonsense. And Rudy Giuliani is a great lawyer,’ Trump said.
‘I’ve watched the passion that he’s had on television over the last few days. I think it’s incredible the way he’s done,’ Trump continued.
‘He wants to find out where did this Russian witch-hunt you people really helped perpetrate, where did it start? How come it started? It was all nonsense. It was a hoax – total hoax … And Rudy’s got every right to go and find out where that started and other people are looking at that, too.
Asked if a server containing Clinton’s emails might be in Ukraine, as he suggested in the call transcript, Trump replied: ‘Could very well.’
Then he said he liked the question, ‘because frankly i think that one of the great crimes committed is Hillary Clinton deleting 33,000 emails after congress sent her a subpoena.’
He told Zelensky: ‘we have corruption also, Mr. president. We have a lot of corruption in our government, and when you see what happened with Hillary Clinton, when you see what happened with [former FBI Director James] Comey and [former FBI official Andrew] McCabe and all of these people, we have a lot of things going on here, too. Hopefully it’s going to be found out very soon, but I think that a lot of progress has been made. A lot of progress has been made,’ he said.
Trump’s campaign hits back
Trump’s presidential campaign immediately teed off on the release of the transcript, accusing Democrats of acting out of ‘pure hatred.’
‘Because of their pure hatred for President Trump, desperate Democrats and the salivating media already had determined their mission: take out the President,’ said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
‘The fact is that the President wants to fight the corruption in Washington, where the Bidens, the Clintons, and other career politicians have abused their power for personal gain for decades. The facts prove the President did nothing wrong,’ he said. ‘This is just another hoax from Democrats and the media, contributing to the landslide re-election of President Trump in 2020.’
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, however, saw no reason to back off his statement that the information is ‘troubling.’
‘This remains deeply troubling and we’ll see where it leads but the first reaction is, troubling,’ he said at a forum hosted by the Atlantic magazine. But he declined to say whether it was an ‘impeachable offense.’
Asked about the quid pro quo issue, Romney said: ‘I don’t know that I’ve focused so much on the quid pro quo element … There’s just the question of… if the president of the United States asks or presses the leader for a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that’s troubling. And I feel that. If there were a quid pro quo, that would take it to an entirely more extreme level,’ Romney said.
The transcript became a political hot potato this week as Democrats clamored for its release with predictions that it would show Trump committing impeachable offenses.
They argue that Trump’s request for a new investigation into the Bidens was motivated by a desire to politically cripple the former vice president, who was then thought of as his main rival in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump released the call transcript the morning after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House was conducting a formal impeachment inquiry of the president.
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