Trump said he had ‘perfect’ call with Ukraine president about Biden
David Jackson and Michael Collins
Published 12:02 PM EDT Sep 22, 2019
WASHINGTON – While Democrats stepped up calls for impeachment, President Donald Trump directly acknowledged Sunday that he spoke with the president of Ukraine about an investigation into political opponent Joe Biden, but called the talk appropriate.
Speaking with reporters en route to a trip to Texas and Ohio, Trump said: “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption – all of the corruption taking place – and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
He described the call as “absolutely perfect.”
In statements and tweets in recent days, Trump has implied that Biden was a subject of the call with the Ukraine leader; Sunday was his first direct acknowledgement.
U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, called for more details on a complaint by a whistleblower who said that, in a July phone call, Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to have his government investigate Biden and his son.
Biden, whose son Hunter had business interests in Ukraine, said Trump is using his job as president to get a foreign government to dig for dirt on a political rival.
“He’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum,” Biden told reporters on Saturday. “And he’s using an abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to smear me.”
Democratic lawmakers said the incident may well increase calls for impeachment of Trump, who is being probed for his actions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I have spoken with a number of my colleagues over the last week, and this seems different in kind,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union.
“We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here,” he said.
At the White House, Trump said he would have “no problem” if his attorney Rudy Giuliani testified before Congress about Ukraine and Biden.
Giuliani, who has spoken with Ukraine officials about Biden, has declined to discuss his conversations with Trump on the matter, citing attorney-client privilege. In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Giuliani said an investigation is warranted over the business interests of Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son.
The Ukraine-related allegations against Trump are included in the whisteblower’s complaint that the office of Director of National Intelligence is refusing to release to Congress.
In calling for release of the complaint, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, cited reports that Trump threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine if it did not investigate Biden.
“If media reports are correct that President Trump delayed military aid appropriated by Congress in order to get Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, it’s difficult not to see that as an abuse of presidential authority, plain and simple,” she said.
Some Democrats called it impeachable.
“At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “It is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it.”
During a brief Q-and-A with reporters at the White House, Trump also said:
– He has no plans to meet with any officials from Iran during United Nations meetings this week. “Nothing is ever off the table,” he said, “but I have no intention of meeting with Iran.”
The comment came just days after his administration slapped new sanctions on Iran and announced it would send troops to the Middle East in response to an attack last weekend on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.
Iran has denied responsibility, but the U.S. has blamed Iran for the missile and drone attack.
– The administration will make a “big investment” in Texas to help with flood recovery.
– Will continue to look at a package of gun-control proposals.
“We’re studying it very hard,” he said. “If Congress could get back to work, we could get something.”
Congressional Republicans are looking to Trump on how to address gun control in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings.
The Ukraine dispute revolves around Biden’s work for President Barack Obama.
Acting in his role as vice president, Biden urged Ukraine’s then-government to fire its chief prosecutor, tying the decision to U.S. aid. Other world leaders endorsed the move, describing the prosecutor’s office as hopelessly corrupt.
Trump, Giuliani, and other critics said the former prosecutor was investigating a company of which Hunter Biden was a board member.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaking on Fox News Sunday, said Biden’s actions were known and supported at the time, and there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Cardin said Trump’s accusations against the Biden family are an attempt to distract voters from his own problems.
Biden has said he has never spoken with his son about the latter’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Trump challenged that statement, telling reporters: “Give me a break.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo side-stepped a question on Sunday about whether he had pressed Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden.
In an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation, Pompeo said he has spoken with Ukraine’s foreign minister a couple of times but offered only a vague description of those conversations.
“We talk about the important relationship between our two countries and how we can make Ukraine stronger and have great economic commerce between our two great nations,” Trump’s secretary of state said.
House Democrats are already investigating Trump on claims he tried to obstruct justice during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.
Trump has denied collusion with Russians in 2016 or obstruction of justice in the years thereafter. He has described the various investigations as “witch hunts,’ and said that now includes the whistleblower’s claims about his Ukraine call.
“They keep wasting time in Congress over nothing,” Trump said Sunday. “They are studying nothing.”
Trump spoke before a day of travel to Texas and Ohio in the company of foreign leaders.
First comes a visit to Houston for an event with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be held at the city’s pro football stadium. The administration is billing the Texas event – dubbed “Howdy, Modi!” – as the largest gathering ever for a foreign leader (except for the Pope).
Trump then travels to Wapakoneta, Ohio, to visit a new Australian-owned manufacturing plant, along with that nation’s prime minister, Scott Morrison.
Trump then heads to New York, where he will attend United Nations meetings over the next three days – including a meeting with Zelensky, the Ukraine president.
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen