Washington: President Donald Trump said he’d release the transcript of a July phone call with the Ukrainian president on Wednesday, and an unidentified whistle-blower who complained to authorities about the call has asked to testify to Congress.
By releasing the transcript, Trump seeks to defuse a ballooning controversy over allegations he sought foreign help to smear a political rival. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced that her chamber would begin a formal impeachment inquiry.
Trump said Democrats would lose the 2020 election as a result. “It’s the craziest thing anybody has ever seen,” he told reporters during a meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“How can you do this if you haven’t even seen the phone call?” he added.
Trump acknowledged earlier Tuesday that he had ordered a halt to about $400 million in American military aid to Ukraine, claiming he was frustrated that Europe wasn’t also contributing to the country’s conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
Trump’s order, to his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, came at least a week before his July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The call was already the focus of a congressional investigation into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to re-open a criminal probe linked to the family of former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for restoring the aid.
Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, that unless the White House fully complied with congressional demands for information related to the Ukraine matter, “Donald Trump will leave Congress no choice but to initiate impeachment.”
“That would be a tragedy, but a tragedy of his own making,” he said.
Trump said he’d release a complete, unredacted transcript of his call with Zelenskiy on Wednesday.
U.S. stocks pared declines after Trump’s tweet.
Trump added in a subsequent tweet that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had sought and received permission from the Ukrainians to release the transcript. “They don’t know either what the big deal is,” Trump said.
The confidential whistle-blower complaint, from an unidentified intelligence official, relates to a sequence of events including Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Congressional Democrats have demanded a copy of the complaint, but the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused. Trump didn’t address the complaint in his tweets.
The Senate passed a non-binding resolution on Tuesday, written by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, calling on the administration to provide the complaint to Congress. The resolution passed under unanimous consent, without any Republicans objecting.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff of California, said Wednesday that the whistle-blower has asked to testify to his panel.
Trump is expected to meet with Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Wednesday. The Ukrainian leader said in an interview with Voice of America on Tuesday that he expects the meeting “will be very warm.”
Trump said Tuesday that he had withheld the military aid to Ukraine over a previously unknown dispute with Europe.
“My complaint has always been — and I’d withhold again, and I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine,” Trump said as he arrived at United Nations General Assembly. “Because they’re not doing it. It’s the United States. We’re putting up the bulk of the money and I’m asking why is that.”
The European Union says it’s provided more than $15 billion euros in grants and loans to Ukraine since 2014 to help the country fight corruption and reform its institutions.
Later at the UN, Trump complained that France and Germany weren’t “paying payment” to Ukraine.
“You know, President Obama used to send pillows and sheets,” he said. “I sent anti-tank weapons and a lot of things to Ukraine.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has helped lead efforts to broker peace in eastern Ukraine as part of the 2015 agreement with Russia known as the Minsk accord. But she has steadfastly opposed shipping weapons to Ukraine, insisting the move would only compound an armed conflict with Russian forces. Only compliance with the Minsk agreement will stop the fighting, Merkel has said.
On Monday, Trump said he didn’t ask Zelenskiy for an investigation of Biden in exchange for the military aid.
The aid was restored earlier this month, and Trump has not previously explained why it was halted. At the UN on Monday, he said he had discussed “corruption” with Zelenskiy in the July 25 call.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” he said. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”
Trump’s order to Mulvaney to halt the aid was reported earlier Monday by the Washington Post. Asked about the episode, Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said, “The media pushed the Russia lie for almost three years with no evidence, and now they are doing it all over again. These allegations are completely false, but because the media wants this story to be true so badly, they’ll once again manufacture a frenzy and drive ignorant, fake stories to attack this president.”
On Monday, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the president threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine over calls for an investigation into largely discredited allegations against Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
At the UN on Monday, Trump grew hostile as reporters questioned him about the matter at the meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
“Joe Biden and his son are corrupt,” he said. “If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they’d be getting the electric chair by right now.”
Trump alleges that as vice president, Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general in 2016 in order to stop an investigation of a company connected to Hunter Biden.
Biden and Ukraine
It’s true that on behalf of the Obama administration, Biden demanded that Ukraine oust its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who had been accused of corruption by his deputy. Shokin had investigated a company called Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden sat on its board and received substantial compensation.
Biden said at a 2018 event at the Council on Foreign Relations that he had threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees from Ukraine unless its leaders dismissed Shokin. The Ukrainian parliament wound up voting to remove the prosecutor.
But by the time the Obama administration joined with other Western nations to force Shokin’s removal, the Burisma investigation had been long dormant, Shokin’s former deputy Vitaliy Kasko said in an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this year.
Trump said that in his call with Zeleskiy, “I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid.”