‘Abuse of power’: Joe Biden urges inquiry on Trump Ukraine call

July 25th call to Ukraine president at centre of battle over whistleblower’s complaint

US president Donald Trump claims he did not say anything wrong during a telephone call with his Ukrainian counterpart in which, according to reports, he pressed for an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Video: The White House

 

Former US vice-president Joe Biden, a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, on Saturday called for an investigation into reports that President Donald Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden and his son.

“This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power. To get on the phone with a foreign leader who is looking for help from the United States and ask about me and imply things? This is outrageous,” a visibly angry Mr Biden said while campaigning in Iowa.

“Trump is using this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum and is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Trump’s July 25th telephone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is at the centre of an escalating battle over a whistleblower’s complaint reportedly concerning the US leader’s dealings with Ukraine that the administration has refused to give to Congress.

The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets on Friday said Mr Trump repeatedly asked Mr Zelenskiy to investigate unsubstantiated charges that Mr Biden, while vice-president, threatened to withhold US aid unless a prosecutor who was looking into a gas company in which Mr Biden’s son was involved was fired.

Mr Trump, reports said, urged Mr Zelenskiy, a comedian who had just won election, to speak with Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. Mr Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, has promoted the allegations against Mr Biden and his son, Hunter, and acknowledged that he pressed for a Ukrainian investigation.

Mr Biden has admitted threatening to withhold aid unless the prosecutor was dismissed, a demand also made by the wider US government, the European Union and other international institutions for his alleged failure to pursue major corruption cases.

Major campaign issue

The news reports about the Zelenskiy phone call have intensified demands by Democratic lawmakers for the House of Representatives to launch impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump, and have elevated the controversy to a major campaign issue.

Mr Trump denied doing anything improper. He wrote in a series of tweets on Saturday that his conversation with Mr Zelenskiy was “perfectly fine and routine”. He accused the “Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party” of staying “as far away as possible” from the Biden allegations.

Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko on Saturday denied in an interview with a Ukrainian news outlet suggestions that Mr Trump had pressured Mr Zelenskiy.

Mr Biden, responding to a reporter’s question at the Polk County Democratic Party’s annual “steak fry” in Des Moines, denied he had ever spoken to his son about his business dealings in Ukraine.

“You should be looking at Trump. Everybody looked at this and everybody who’s looked at it said there’s nothing there. Ask the right question,” continued Mr Biden. “You should be asking him the question: why is he on the phone with a foreign leader, trying to intimidate a foreign leader?”

The House Intelligence Committee is demanding it be given the whistleblower’s complaint in line with a finding by the inspector-general for the intelligence community that the matter met the legal threshold for transmission to Congress.

Acting director of national security Joseph Maguire, however, decided against providing the complaint to the committee after he consulted with the Justice Department, and reportedly the White House.

Mr Maguire and his top lawyer contended the complaint did not meet the legal guidelines for submission to the committee, prompting Democrats to accuse Maguire of breaking the law.

Three House committees already were investigating the Trump-Zelenskiy call in part because the Ukrainian government’s readout of the call appeared to show that Mr Trump had encouraged Mr Zelenskiy to pursue a Biden investigation. – Reuters