The White House on Wednesday released a transcript of President Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showing he sought a review of Biden family dealings in the country — but the document does not show Trump explicitly leveraging military aid as part of a quid pro quo, as Democrats have suggested in pressing forward with impeachment.
The document, declassified by Trump a day earlier, indicates that the call – which Trump made from the White House residence -- took place July 25 from 9:03 a.m. to 9:33 a.m. A notation on the memo says it does not represent a "verbatim transcript" but is based on "notes and recollections" of those listening and memorializing the call. It is still presented in transcript form.
The memo begins with the president congratulating Zelensky on his election victory, before Trump eventually broaches the subject former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“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,” Trump said in the phone call. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it…It sounds horrible to me.”
This refers to Joe Biden, while vice president, urging Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was investigating the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings — where Hunter Biden was on the board. Biden has maintained that corruption concerns prompted his intervention.
Trump, in the run-up to the transcript's release, was accused by Democrats of essentially pressuring a foreign power to investigate a political opponent, as Biden is now a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
On Monday, it was reported that Trump had even ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before the phone call with Zelensky, a detail that fueled impeachment calls and led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce a formal impeachment inquiry Tuesday. But the call transcript does not show Trump explicitly mentioning the aid as a bargaining chip or otherwise — though Zelensky did appear to reference military aid early in the call, when he thanked Trump for "great support in the area of defense."
Trump also noted early on that the U.S. has been "very very good to Ukraine" as he suggested the relationship is not always "reciprocal."
The transcript shows Zelensky eventually suggesting to Trump the Biden matter would be looked into by a new prosecutor. “He or she will look into the situation specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue, the issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and we will work on the investigation of the case.”
Trump told Zelensky he wanted his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr to get involved.
“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you call and I’m also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out,” he said.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said in a statement that the attorney general was first notified of the president’s conversation with Zelensky several weeks after the call took place, “when the Department of Justice learned of a potential referral.”
“The president has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” Kupec said. “The president has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter. The attorney general has not communicated with Ukraine — on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything related to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
Before the transcript was released, Democrats accused Trump of improperly using his office to pressure another country to investigate one of his chief Democratic rivals. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said during an appearance on Fox News: "There's no quid pro quo and there's no pressure."
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has repeatedly referred to the impeachment push as a partisan “witch hunt.”
“Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call - got them by surprise!” the president tweeted Wednesday.
The Trump-Zelensky conversation led to a whistleblower complaint against the president, provoking the avalanche of impeachment calls from Democrats.
But the Justice Department – in a new letter from the Office of Legal Counsel obtained by Fox News – is pushing back on the claim that the whistleblower brought out something of “urgent concern” that would have to be turned over to Congress.
“For the reasons set forth above, we conclude that the complaint submitted to the [intelligence community inspector general] does not involve an 'urgent concern'…” It adds: “As a result, the statute does not require that the [Director of National Intelligence] transmit the complaint to the intelligence committees.”
The DOJ opinion also said the intelligence community inspector general found “some indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the complainant in favor of a rival political candidate,” but still said the allegations “appeared credible.” Fox News previously reported that, according to a source, the individual also did not have “firsthand knowledge” of the phone call.
Sources, meanwhile, said the original allegations spoke to a possible campaign finance violation, but the DOJ concluded that Trump’s request for an investigation did not qualify as a “thing of value” for his campaign – and therefore did not constitute a criminal violation.
On Tuesday night, Pelosi – who had resisted calls from the liberal base to pursue articles of impeachment – announced a formal impeachment inquiry against the president. Even without a "quid pro quo" illustrated in the transcript, Democrats are likely to move full speed ahead on impeachment. Wednesday’s transcript release is the first time lawmakers have seen exactly what was said in the conversation.
Democrats, though, have said they won’t be satisfied with just seeing the transcript and have said they want access to the full whistleblower report. That complaint may soon be turned over, however, as the administration weighs how to handle the document.
The transcript also shows Trump asking for a “favor” in the form of Ukraine providing information about the hacking of the DNC server in 2016. He referenced CrowdStrike, a cyber firm used by the DNC to investigate the attacks.
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it,” Trump said.
During the call, Trump also blasted what he referred to as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “very poor performance” before Congress in July about the Trump-Russia investigation. Trump added, “a lot of it started with Ukraine” and asked for help in gathering information about the probe's origins. “Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” Trump said.
Later on Wednesday, Trump is slated to meet with Zelensky, in what will be a high-stakes moment amid the impeachment push, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The meeting was previously scheduled, unrelated to the whistleblower allegation, though the two leaders are expected to receive questions from reporters on the matter.
Trump then is expected to hold a press conference in New York in the late afternoon, where the impeachment drive is sure to be front and center.
A senior Trump administration official told Fox News that the White House has been working as quickly as it can to release to Congress the whistleblower complaint involving Trump’s conversations with the Ukrainian president, as long as it’s legally possible.
The White House has maintained that they have nothing to hide and that there has been no wrongdoing. Their general position has been that it will make everything possible available to Congress or the public regarding Trump’s call and the complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general.
“The president must be held accountable,” Pelosi said Tuesday, citing his alleged “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and the betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
Fox News’ Ed Henry, Jake Gibson, Catherine Herridge, Kevin Corke and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.