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Trump asked Ukraine's president to investigate Biden

September 25, 2019

US President Donald Trump requested his Ukrainian counterpart start an investigation into Joe Biden, the summary of a White House phone call has shown. Trump also said Germany "does almost nothing" to help Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and US President Donald Trump
Image: Reuters/J. Ernst

President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the US Attorney General William Barr to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a memo summarizing a July call between the two leaders  released by the White House on Wednesday.

"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son (Hunter), 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, according to the five-page summary.

At one point in the conversation, Trump said, "I would like for you to do us a favor."

Trump has claimed there was "no quid pro quo" in the call and denied any wrongdoing as the political scandal rocks Washington. Zelenskiy said Wednesday that "nobody pushed me," adding that the two leaders just "had a good phone call."

Details of the call 

Critics accuse Trump of temporarily holding back $400 milliion (€365 million) in aid to Ukraine unless it launched the investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential front-runner. The aid was frozen before the call but was released last week. 

Zelenskiy had voiced an interest in purchasing US weaponry to prior Trump turning the conversation in the direction of Biden and a private cybersecurity firm that investigated Russia's hack of the Democratic National Committee servers during the 2016 election.

The memo does not show an explicit effort or threat by Trump to hold back military aid. 

The implication that Trump may have asked a foreign government to help his re-election campaign by investigating a political rival pushed the Democratic Party on Tuesday to start an impeachment inquiry against the president.

Read more: Impeachment in the US: How does it work?

'Mafia-type' shakedown

In a press conference Wednesday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said that the transcript was "far more damning" than expected and that the call reflected a "mafia-type shakedown" of a foreign leader.

Some Republican lawmakers came to Trump's defense. Georgia Congressman Doug Collins tweeted that Pelosi's decree "changes absolutely nothing."

"Until the full House votes to authorize an inquiry, nobody is conducting a formal inquiry," Collins said.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower complaint that triggered the scandal was turned over to the House and Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, giving lawmakers and congressional staff details of the allegations ahead of testimony Thursday by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that there are "real troubling things here" in the whistleblower's complaint.

"Republicans ought not just circle the wagons" to protect Trump, he told reporters after reading the complaint. 

Trump demands an 'apology' 

Just before the release of the phone call memo, Trump tweeted that he expected an apology from Democrats: "Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call — got them by surprise!"

Trump claimed that Democrats had built up his conversation with Zelenskiy to be a "call from hell," but said the transcript summary shows "it turned out to be a nothing call."

Speaking at a press conference at the UN, Trump said there "no push, no pressure, no nothing."

He also said the White House would release a first call with Zelenskiy and those between Vice President Mike Pence and the Ukrainian president. 

Read more: Trump discussed people 'like Biden and his son' with Ukrainian president

Zelenskiy hints Ukraine open to cooperating

Hunter Biden served on the board of Ukraine's largest gas company, Burisma, when it was under investigation by Ukrainian prosecutors. He was never accused of any offense. At the same time, Joe Biden, then vice president, was leading the Obama administration's diplomacy with Ukraine and pressured Kyiv to sack its chief prosecutor because Western countries believed he wasn't doing enough to fight rampant corruption.   

Read more: Opinion: Volodymyr Zelenskiy's grace period must end

In the memo of the phone call with Trump, Zelenskiy appeared open to cooperating with Giuliani and Barr, saying that he was aware of the situation and a new prosecutor would be appointed in September. 

The new prosecutor "will look into the situation, specifically the company that you mentioned in this issue," Zelenskiy said. "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 of the case."     

During his debut address as Ukraine's leader at the UN General Assembly Wednesday, Zelenskiy did not mention the Trump call and instead focused his speech on building international support for Ukraine. 

Trump: 'Single greatest witch hunt in American history'

Germany 'does almost nothing' for Ukraine 

In his conversation with Zelenskiy, Trump also lauded US support for Ukraine, adding that European countries, especially Germany, "should be doing much more." 

"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, according to the transcript. "When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn't do anything."

Read more: France calls for easing of tensions with Russia

Zelenskiy agreed with Trump, and said the US president's criticism was "1000% absolutely right." 

Zelenskiy said he had asked both Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to do more on enforcing sanctions against Russia. 

"They are not enforcing the sanctions. They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine," Zelenskiy said in the transcript, adding that although the EU should "logically" be Ukraine's strongest partner, in fact, the US "is a much bigger partner" than the EU.

A German government spokesperson declined to comment on the statements in the transcript. 

According to the German Foreign Ministry, Berlin has pledged €377 million in bilateral assistance to Ukraine since 2014, in addition to providing several hundreds of millions of euros in loans. 

The EU and European financial institutions have provided more than €15 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine since 2014.

Germany and France have also been at the diplomatic forefront in attempting to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.   

EU sanctions on Russia: Who gains, who loses?

cw,wmr/se (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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