He asked Ukrainian leader to 'look into' Bidens and 2016 events; intel panels get whistleblower complaint
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Trump spent Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly,
meeting with world leaders — including Ukrainian President
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to "look into" Joe Biden, Trump's potential 2020 reelection rival, as well as the president's lingering grievances from the 2016 election, according to a rough transcript of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats' impeachment probe.
Trump repeatedly prodded Volodymyr Zelenskiy, new president of the East European nation, to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer. At one point in the July conversation, Trump said, "I would like for you to do us a favor."
The president's request for such help from a foreign leader set the parameters for the major U.S. debate to come — just the fourth impeachment investigation of an American president in the nation's history. The initial response highlighted the deep divide between the two parties: Democrats said the call amounted to a "shakedown" of a foreign leader, while Trump — backed by the vast majority of Republicans — dismissed it as a "nothing call."
The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint about the president's activities that have roiled Washington and led Democrats to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry of the Republican president on the cusp of the 2020 campaign.
After being stymied by the administration, members of the House and Senate intelligence committees took their first look at the complaint late Wednesday. Republicans kept largely quiet, but several Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, called the classified account "disturbing."
Some from both parties want it to be made public. Congress is also seeking an in-person interview with the whistleblower, who remains anonymous.
Trump spent Wednesday meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable TV split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. Included on his schedule: ameeting with Zelenskiy.
In a light-hearted appearance before reporters, Zelenskiy said he didn't want to get involved in American elections, but added, "Nobody pushed me." Trump chimed in, "In other words, no pressure."
The next steps in the impeachment inquiry were quickly developing a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the probe. A rush of lawmakers, notablymoderate Democrats from districts where Trump remains popular, set aside political concerns and urged action.
One option Pelosi is considering, pressed by some lawmakers, is to focus the impeachment inquiry specifically on the Ukraine issues rather than the many others Congress has been investigating.
"For me, that's what's important," said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., among the new lawmakers in Congress with national security backgrounds. She said it's "just an egregious idea that the president of the United States can contact a foreign leader and influence him for dirt on a political opponent. ... That can't be normalized."
Pelosi announced the impeachment probe Tuesday after months of personal resistance to a process she has warned would be divisive for the country and risky for her party. But after viewing the transcript on Wednesday, Pelosi declared: "Congress must act."
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to move toward impeachment, confident that the specter of an investigation led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.
"It's a joke. Impeachment, for that?" Trump said during a press conference in New York. He revived the same language he has used for months to deride the now-finished special counsel investigation into election interference, declaring impeachment "a hoax" and the "single greatest witch hunt in American history."
Republicans largely stood by the president and dismissed the notion that the rough transcript revealed any wrongdoing by Trump.
"I think it was a perfectly appropriate phone call, it was a congratulatory phone call," said Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican. "The Democrats continually make these huge claims and allegations about President Trump, and then you find out there's no there there."
The Trump administration also continued to raise questions about the whistleblower's motives. According to a Justice Department official, the intelligence community's inspector general said in letter to the acting director of national intelligence that the whistleblower could have "arguable political bias."
The memo released by the White House was not a verbatim transcript but was instead based on the records of officials who listened to the call. The conversation took place on July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference.
In the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr about Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine's economy, saying: "Your economy is going to get better and better, I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country."
At another point in the conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a favor: his help looking into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and determined it was carried out by Russia. Trump has falsely suggested that Crowdstrike was owned by a Ukrainian.
In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens.
Trump has denied that charge, and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy, who was unaware of the aid freeze.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the gas company's board at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
PELOSI TO HEADLINE NEBRASKA DEMOCRATIC PARTY FUNDRAISER
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will appear at the Nebraska Democratic Party's annual fundraiser, the Morrison Exon dinner, in Omaha on Oct. 26.
The state party's announcement of the California Democrat's keynote speech comes two days after Pelosi, in her 17th term as a congresswoman, said the House will open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
"We are in a fight for the soul of our country," Pelosi said in a press release. "I tell women all across the country to know their power. As the Nebraska Democrats celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, there is no better time to show our power."
Nebraska is a historically red state, but its Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District is seen as one of the most competitive House districts in the country. "The NDP is working to deliver that blue dot once again," said party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb. She called Pelosi's leadership and tenacity "unparalleled."— roseann moring