Washington, Sep 23 (IANS) The US president confirmed that he discussed former Vice President Joe Biden with Ukraine’s president during a July call, a conversation that has prompted Democrats to accuse the president of pressuring a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent, according to an EFE/Down Jones report.
Scrutiny over Trump’s interactions with Ukraine has ricocheted across Washington and onto the campaign trail, spurring new calls for impeachment proceedings to begin, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the president repeatedly pressured new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the former US vice president’s anticorruption efforts in the country while his son Hunter Biden was also working there.
Trump defended his call with Zelensky as routine while again suggesting Biden, a potential Trump opponent in 2020, and his son should be investigated – though neither have been accused of wrongdoing over their work in Ukraine.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption – all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son [contributing] to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said on Sunday, Efe news reported.
On Friday, Trump had declined to say what the two leaders had discussed, saying, “It doesn’t matter.”
The examination of Trump’s dealings with his Ukrainian counterpart is likely to escalate this week as Congress continues to probe a whistleblower complaint concerning Trump, an aspect of which involves the Ukraine call, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The Journal reported last week that Trump pressed the Ukrainian president in the call to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on an inquiry into Biden and his son.
Giuliani has suggested Biden’s pressure on Ukraine was motivated by a Ukrainian prosecutor general’s probe of a gas company for which his son Hunter was a director.
Biden, as vice president, did call for the ouster of the former Ukrainian prosecutor general as part of a broader effort by anticorruption investigators, European diplomats, US allies and the US State Department to overhaul a prosecutor’s office widely viewed as corrupt.
A Ukrainian official said this year that he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
Biden, a leading Democratic contender for the presidential nomination, said on Saturday that he had never discussed with his son any overseas business dealings and called for Trump to be investigated.
“He’s using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me,” Biden said.
As more details emerge about the July call between Trump and Zelenky, Democrats in Congress and those running for president pressed anew to begin impeachment proceedings.
“Congress failed to act and now Donald Trump has shown that he believes he is above the law,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Saturday in Iowa. “He has solicited another foreign government to attack our election system. It is time for us to call out this illegal behaviour and start impeachment proceedings right now.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), said that impeachment “may be the only remedy” if Trump was found to have courted foreign intervention in the 2020 election.
“We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here,” Schiff said in an interview on CNN.
“This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office during this presidency, which says a lot, but perhaps during just about any presidency,” he added, while calling on the Republican president to release both a transcript of the Ukraine call and the whistleblower complaint.
Pelosi, however, has been reluctant to open an impeachment inquiry. In a letter to House colleagues Sunday, Pelosi appeared to inch closer to such an inquiry as she called for the director of national intelligence to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the House Intelligence Committee.
“If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” she wrote.
Republicans in Congress were largely quiet about Trump’s call with Zelensky, although some began to convey concern on Sunday.
“If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said on Twitter. “Critical for the facts to come out.”
Romney didn’t specify which responses may be necessary or call for a release of the July call’s transcript, as Democrats have.
Speaking to NBC, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), said it was “not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country.”
Toomey quickly added: “But I don’t know that’s what happened here.”
The whistleblower complaint was submitted last month to the inspector general of the intelligence community, who deemed it a significant matter of “urgent concern.”
Federal whistleblowing law generally dictates that such a complaint should be sent to the congressional intelligence committees, but Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, has refused to do so.
Maguire is to appear this week before both the Senate and House intelligence committees, where he will be asked about his decision not to share the complaint.
Amid the latest revelations over Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been frustrated over the Trump administration’s delay of $250 million in aid for the country to help it ward off pressure from Russia. The administration released the aid to Ukraine this month.
Trump didn’t raise the matter of aid to Ukraine in the call with Zelensky, the Journal reported.
Trump said on Sunday that he hadn’t offered any quid pro quo to Ukraine.