U.S. President Donald Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate his political rival Joe Biden during their call that is at the heart of a House impeachment inquiry.
Trump told Volodymyr Zelenskiy during the July 25 conversation that he would have U.S. Attorney General William Barr and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, call him regarding Biden's involvement in the dismissal of Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, according to a memorandum of a telephone conversation that was released on September 25 just hours before the two leaders meet in New York.
“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 said, according to the text.
Democrats are arguing that Trump pressured Zelenskiy during the call to investigate Biden in order to help his own reelection bid. Biden is a top Democratic contender to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Meeting Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Zelenskiy told reporters that he did not feel "pushed” during the telephone call.
“We had a good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about a lot of things,” the Ukrainian president said when asked about the call.
Trump, who has insisted the focus of the talks with Zelenskiy was on ending graft in Ukraine, reiterated that "there was no pressure" about Biden in the call, and stressed that he wants Zelenskiy to "do whatever he can" to stop "massive" corruption in his country.
The U.S. president earlier called the Democrats’ investigation into the matter “nonsense."
Speaking after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York, he said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “wasting her time on a manufactured crisis."
Pelosi on September 24 announced the House would launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conversations with Zelenskiy.
While serving as vice president under President Barack Obama, Biden lobbied Ukraine to fire Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin -- who was widely seen both at home and in the West as failing to fight corruption -- before the United States would release more money to Ukraine. Trump called Shokin a “very good” prosecutor, according to the text.
Giuliani has accused Biden of pushing Ukraine to fire Shokin to protect Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings, which had been under investigation by the prosecutor-general. Biden’s son Hunter served on Burisma’s board. However, Shokin was not carrying out an active probe of the gas company at the time of his firing, officials in his office have said.
Zelenskiy told Trump he would “look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.”
Following release of the memorandum, calls in Kyiv to National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Danylyuk, Prosecutor-General Ruslan Ryaboshapka, and members of Zelenskiy's party went unanswered.
Democrats have accused Trump of withholding nearly $400 million of aid to Ukraine -- which is at war with Russian-backed separatists -- in order to push Zelenskiy to investigate Biden.
Trump told Zelenskiy that the United States had been “very, very good to Ukraine” but that it had not necessarily been “reciprocal.”
When Zelenskiy then mentioned he planned to buy more U.S. weapons, Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor, though” and look into a theory pushed by some in his circle that Ukraine may have been involved in the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers in 2016.
“They say a lot of it started with Ukraine,” Trump said, seeming to refer to the Mueller investigation. “Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible.”
U.S.-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC, concluded that Russians had hacked the servers. An official investigation led by U.S. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller also blamed Russia for the DNC breach.
The conclusions of the Mueller investigation have cast a shadow over Trump’s victory in the 2016 election and given his opponents fodder to question his legitimacy, something that has irked the president ever since his inauguration.
The Trump-Zelenskiy call came one day after Mueller’s testimony to Congress on July 24.
While Trump did request a favor after Zelenskiy inquired about buying more weapons, Trump did not directly say he would withhold support during the call.
Trump did lambaste his European counterparts, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for not doing more for Ukraine.
“Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it's something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn't do anything,” Trump said, according to the text.