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Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Trump asked Ukraine leader to investigate Joe Biden, White House transcript shows

An impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump was launched by Democrats yesterday.

THE WHITE HOUSE has released a transcript of Donald Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president which confirms he asked Kiev to probe his political rival Joe Biden. 

The transcripts of Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky confirms he pressed for Kiev to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading candidate to challenge Trump in the 2020 election, and his son. 

Democrats, who opened formal impeachment proceedings against the president yesterday, are investigating whether he pressured a foreign government to look into a political opponent, and if he used a $400 million aid package as leverage. There was no mention of the money in the summary.

In the transcript of the 25 July phone call, Trump raised allegations that the former vice president sought to interfere with a Ukrainian prosecutor’s investigation of his son Hunter.

There’s a lot 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. 

The official memorandum on the call to Zelensky shows Trump saying his attorney general Bill Barr and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani would be in touch about probing Biden and his son’s activities related to Ukraine.

As Barack Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden and other Western leaders pressured Ukraine to get rid of the country’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, because he was seen as not tough enough on corruption.

In the White House-released transcript, Zelensky told Trump that since he had won the absolute majority in parliament the next prosecutor general will be “100% my person, my candidate”. 

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
of the case.

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The five-page document was released as Trump was preparing to meet Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later today.

Speaking to reporters after the transcript dropped, Trump maintained that he had exerted “no pressure” on Ukraine.

“There was no pressure whatsoever,” Trump told reporters in New York. 

 ”It was a friendly letter, there was no pressure,” Trump repeated, denouncing what he called “the single greatest witch hunt in American history.”

The full transcript can be read here. There is a disclaimer at the bottom of the document that it is “not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.”

Federal campaign finance violation? 

The connection to Attorney General William Barr marks a new and potentially more serious issue for Trump because it shows he took steps to involve the US government with a foreign country to investigate a political rival.

Trump recently confirmed that he ordered the freezing of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before the call. The US president insisted he did nothing wrong and has denied that any request for help in procuring damaging information about Biden was tied to the aid freeze.

Democrats have already made clear that the transcript of the phone call will not be enough to satisfy their investigation into whether the US leader broke the law, which could potentially result in him being formally charged in the House of Representatives and put on trial in the Senate.

In announcing the launch of impeachment proceedings on Tuesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump had betrayed his country in seeking help from a foreign power to hurt a political rival.

74th-session-of-the-un-general-assembly-in-new-york Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the 74th session of United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters today in New York. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Trump took the 30-minute call from the White House residence, while officials in the situation room listened in and worked to keep a record of the conversation, as is standard practice.

The resulting memorandum was classified as Secret and ORCON, for originator controlled, to prevent its spread throughout the federal government or to American allies. It was declassified for release today.

The inspector general for the intelligence community wrote to the Director of National Intelligence in August that he believed the conversation between Trump and Ukraine’s leader could have been a federal campaign finance violation because the president could have been soliciting a campaign contribution from a foreign government, a Justice Department official said.

The whistleblower — a member of the intelligence community — said in their complaint that they had heard the information from “White House officials,” but did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, the Justice Department official said.

Prosecutors from the department reviewed a transcript of the call and determined the president did not violate campaign finance law. The determination was made based on the elements of the allegation, and there was no consideration of the department’s policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the official said.

The official spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal investigative deliberations.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the attorney general was first notified of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president “several weeks after the call took place,” when the department received the referral about potential criminal conduct.

“The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The president has not asked the attorney general to contact Ukraine – on this or any other matter,” the spokeswoman said.

US lawmakers have been demanding details of the whistleblower’s complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege.

He is to testify tomorrow before the House, and lawmakers are expected to have access to details of the complaint beforehand in a classified setting.

Additional reporting from Associated Press 

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