WASHINGTON DC — The White House has released a memo summarizing the phone call between President Donald Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine.
Washington plunged into an impeachment crisis on Wednesday, as House Democrats opened an investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign season dealings with Ukraine. Trump repeatedly prodded Ukraine’s president to look into Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript released by the White House.
“Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Trump said in the summer phone call. He was referring to Attorney General William Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement official.
The president’s words set the parameters of the political debate to come, with Trump dismissing it as routine and Democrats saying that it laid the predicate for an impeachment inquiry.
The release came against the backdrop of Trump’s meetings with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. On Trump’s schedule Wednesday: a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose contacts with Trump are now central to the impeachment inquiry.
Sen. Chris Murphy released a statement regarding the memo:
“This transcript is devastating. Within moments of President Zelensky discussing the need for U.S. security aid, Trump asks him to investigate his political opponents. Throughout the call, Trump tells the Ukrainian president to coordinate with his reelection campaign. These are demands that a President of the United States simply cannot make of a foreign leader, and the transcript further underscores the urgent need to get a full, complete accounting of Trump’s abuse of his office,”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal released a statement regarding the memo:
“These call notes are deeply damning and powerfully incriminating. Devastating for President Trump, they spell out exactly how he pressured the Ukrainian President to investigate Trump’s political opponent for personal, political gain. It reads like a classic gangster shakedown – and I prosecuted mob bosses, I would know. Congress must not only see the whistleblower’s full complaint, we should hear from the whistleblower and other witnesses directly.”
“The President is in breach of his oath of office and his constitutional duty to protect our country.”
“William Barr may now be in legal jeopardy. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the President never asked him to investigate anyone. He should be brought back before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain his previous testimony.”
“Moreover, Attorney General Barr must recuse himself from any DOJ involvement in this matter immediately. If reports are true that DOJ declined to open an investigation after receiving a criminal referral about this call, we must find out what role Barr played in that decision, given that he is mentioned numerous times in the very call that the referral is about. We must also find out what role Barr played in instructing the DNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress.”
“No one is above the law, not the president, not his personal lawyer, and not the Attorney General of the United States. The world is watching.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) issued a statement regarding the memo:
“President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should alarm every American—especially those in Congress who have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution. On July 25, 2019, just one day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the President asked a foreign leader point-blank to ‘look into’ 2020 Presidential candidate Vice President Joe Biden and his son. That request—to investigate a political opponent before the upcoming 2020 election—reeks of potential extortion and it is illegal.”
“We cannot allow the President or his advisers, including his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to confuse and obfuscate this matter. Releasing notes of President’s call does not make his words less damning; no amount of propaganda on cable TV can change that. In fact, this call only makes the need for the Intelligence Committee to see the entire whistleblower complaint even more urgent. That is why I am reiterating my support for an impeachment inquiry, which is the only recourse Congress has to respond to President Trump’s egregious actions.”
Rep. Jime Himes (CT-04) issued a statement regarding the memo:
“The telephone conversation between President Trump and President Zelenskyy of Ukraine is a shocking glimpse into the mind of a President who is either unwilling or unable to distinguish between presidential action and political attack.
“As we suspected, President Trump did, in fact, request that a foreign government investigate his political opponent. The President says, ‘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.’
“There is no other way to parse this call than to understand that President Trump is seeking direct aid from a foreign country to discredit and smear former Vice President Biden. This goes beyond poor judgment or an ethical lapse on the President’s part. This is premeditated, criminal behavior. It appears in the conversation after a discussion of military aid, and reeks of a proposed quid pro quo. There are reports of other conversations that took place containing similar requests that we should unearth given the nature of this conversation.
“In addition, this transcript makes it clear that President Trump uses both his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr interchangeably in these matters. Not only is this a completely inappropriate muddling of the personal and political, but it directly involves the Justice Department in this ongoing scandal.
“The American people deserve to see the evidence and information that relates to this and other potential criminal behavior by the President and this administration. The foundation of our democracy is built on the idea of checks and balances so, during this impeachment inquiry, Congress must have the power to hold this President accountable without obstruction.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, yielding to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief. The probe injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.
“There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have,” he tweeted Wednesday from New York. “The Democrats are frozen with hatred and fear. They get nothing done. This should never be allowed to happen to another “President. Witch Hunt!
While Pelosi’s announcement adds weight to the work being done on the oversight committees, the next steps are likely to resemble the past several months of hearings and legal battles — except with the possibility of actual impeachment votes.
Her brief statement, delivered without dramatic flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic weeklong stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted toward an impeachment probe.
For months, the Democratic leader has tried calming the push for impeachment, saying the House must investigate the facts and let the public decide. The new drive was led by a group of moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time. The freshmen, who largely represent districts previously held by Republicans where Trump is popular, risk their own reelections but say they could no longer stand idle. Amplifying their call were longtime leaders, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon often considered the conscience of House Democrats.
“Now is the time to act,” said Lewis, in an address to the House. “To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”
At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Zelenskiy, he asked for help investigating former Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.
Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president “will leave Congress … with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” He said that would be a tragedy of Trump’s “own making.”
The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of a whistleblower’s complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege.
The whistleblower’s complaint was being reviewed for classified material and could go to Congress by Thursday, according to a person familiar with the issue who was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.
Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.
But details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi addressed the nation Tuesday, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.
The burden will probably now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.
On Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House is expected to consider a symbolic but still notable resolution insisting the Trump administration turn over to Congress the whistleblower’s complaint. The Republican-led Senate, in a rare bipartisan moment, unanimously approved a similar resolution Tuesday.
The lawyer for the whistleblower, who is still anonymous, released a statement saying he had asked Trump’s director of national intelligence to turn over the complaint to House committees and asking guidance to permit the whistleblower to meet with lawmakers.