Trump to release Ukrainian call transcript as controversy grows

US president under fire over call to Kiev amid claims aid was withheld as bargaining chip

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

 

US president Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would release the full transcript of his controversial telephone call with Ukraine’s president, as he moved to blunt rising support among Democrats for impeachment proceedings over the issue.

Mr Trump tweeted that he had “authorised the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with president [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy of Ukraine.

“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!”

Reports in the New York Times and Washington Post on Tuesday said Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi was planning to begin a formal impeachment inquiry of Mr Trump over the controversy.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Trump acknowledged withholding nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine this summer, but denied trying to pressure Kiev to investigate Mr Biden’s family, as the number of Democrats calling for his impeachment rose to more than two-thirds of their members in the House of Representatives.

Speaking in New York, Mr Trump said the controversial July call with Mr Zelenskiy was intended to persuade Europe to pay more to support Ukraine.

“I think it’s unfair that we put up the money,” Mr Trump said before his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday morning local time. “Germany, France, other countries, should put up money, and that has been my complaint from the beginning.”

But the controversy – which erupted after a whistleblower raised concerns about the call – has led to intense speculation that Mr Trump threatened to withhold aid to push Mr Zelenskiy to investigate the Ukrainian business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, in what would amount to foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. Mr Biden is one of the frontrunners in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Scheduled announcement

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, was set to make an announcement later on Tuesday about whether the party would move to impeach Mr Trump.

Ms Pelosi had been reluctant to impeach the president, fearing it would energise his voters in 2020 – and fail to yield a conviction in the Republican-controlled Senate. But she faced an avalanche of calls for action as the controversy deepened.

“The time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come,” John Lewis, a civil rights activist and veteran Georgia politician who previously resisted calls to impeach. “To delay or do otherwise would betray the foundations of our democracy.”

Some centrist Democrats who had also previously been hesitant about beginning impeachment proceedings have changed their tune and joined the more than 150 Democratic House members who favoured taking action.

In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post late Monday, a group of freshman House Democrats said that if the claims about Mr Trump using his power to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the US election were true it would “represent an impeachable offence”.

“There’s no question this is a watershed moment. For only the third time in American history, a president of the United States will be impeached. We all are mindful of the gravity of this,” Brendan Boyle, a three-term House Democrat from Philadelphia, told the Financial Times.

‘Faceless bureaucracy’

In his speech to the UN on Tuesday, Mr Trump appeared to take aim at the whistleblower, saying “a faceless bureaucracy operates in secret and weakens democratic rule”.

US media reported on Monday that Mr Trump had instructed Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to withhold the military aid approved by Congress.

In the July 25th phone call, Mr Trump reportedly urged his Ukrainian counterpart to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to investigate Mr Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. The younger Biden took up a lucrative board position with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, in 2014, when his father was still in office.

Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani have made a range of unsubstantiated allegations about the younger Biden’s activities in Ukraine.

Mr Trump has repeatedly alleged that Joe Biden improperly pressured the Ukrainian government in 2016 to fire a top prosecutor who had opened an investigation into Burisma, in order to help his son.

While the then vice-president called for the prosecutor’s dismissal and threatened to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees if he was not sacked, his calls were part of a wider effort involving US officials in Kiev, western allies and international groups, including the IMF and the World Bank, to crack down on corruption in the country.

Biden responds

While campaigning in Iowa at the weekend, Joe Biden said he had “never” spoken to Hunter about his overseas business dealings, adding: “Trump is doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum, and he is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me.”

The mood on Capitol Hill has changed in recent days, as more details have emerged about Mr Trump’s phone call with Mr Zelenskiy. On Monday, three separate congressional committees threatened to issue subpoenas if the US state department does not hand over documents relating to Mr Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine.

“Seeking to enlist a foreign actor to interfere with an American election undermines our sovereignty, democracy, and the constitution, which the president is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend,” the committee chairs said.

Rosa DeLauro, a longtime Democratic congresswoman and ally of Ms Pelosi, said in a statement late Monday that Mr Trump’s latest actions marked a “turning point”.

“An impeachment inquiry may be the only recourse Congress has if the president is enlisting foreign assistance in the 2020 election,” Ms DeLauro said.

One Democratic politician said that Ms Pelosi had decided to move to impeach, but that it was unclear exactly how she intended to move forward with the process. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019