Trump vows to release transcript of call with Ukraine’s Zelensky
John Fritze, David Jackson and Michael Collins
Published 9:34 PM EDT Sep 24, 2019
NEW YORK – President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will release the transcript of a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the center of a controversy over whether he pressured Kiev to investigate Joe Biden.
The White House is also weighing whether to give Congress a whistleblower report that outlines concerns about Trump’s interaction with a foreign leader, according to two administration sources speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
While talks over the report were ongoing, it was not immediately clear when the report would be released nor how committed Trump is to releasing it.
Trump’s willingness to consider freeing up the documents came as House Democrats decided to open an impeachment inquiry into the president’s effort to enlist Ukraine officials to dig up dirt on Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Democrats would proceed with an impeachment inquiry in part because of Trump’s refusal to provide documents that would shed light on his communications with Ukraine about his political rival.
“The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” she said.
In a tweet, Trump promised to release “the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine.”
An attorney for the unnamed whistleblower said his client applauds the decision to release the complaint “as it establishes that, ultimately, the lawful whistleblower disclosure process can work.”
“We await the release of the complaint in its totality,” the attorney said.
The president confirmed reports Tuesday that he withheld aid from Ukraine days before his phone call with Zelensky in July, but denied he used the money as leverage to demand the Ukrainians dig up dirt on Biden.
He insisted that he delayed the congressionally approved money because he wanted other European countries to contribute more to Ukraine. The president had said earlier that he withheld the funds over concerns about corruption.
A whistleblower in the intelligence community called attention to conversations between Trump and a foreign leader. Reports surfaced over the weekend that Trump asked Zelensky to look into allegations about the Biden family, specifically the former vice president’s son Hunter.
Critics have said the transcript, on its own, is insufficient to settle the matter.
“The release of the transcript is necessary but far from sufficient,” said Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman in the Obama White House. “At its heart, this is about an urgent, credible whistleblower complaint involving ‘multiple actions.’ The law says Congress must be provided with it. This will remain a cover-up until that happens.”
The transcript’s release may be followed by testimony from the whisteblower, Rep. Adam Schiff, R-Calif., said Tuesday.
Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the whisleblower’s attorney asked to speak with the committee and is working with the office of the Director of National Intelligence on how to proceed.
“We‘re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week,” Schiff tweeted.
Talks to release the whistleblower’s statement – and allow him or her to testify to Congress – came as the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is scheduled to go before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Maguire, who initially refused to share the complaint with Congress, defended his handling of the matter late Tuesday.
“I want to make clear that I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way,” Maguire said in a statement. “I am committed to protecting whistleblowers and ensuring every complaint is handled appropriately.”
Trump later tweeted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received permission from Ukraine’s government to publish the transcript. Trump claimed Ukraine officials “don’t know either what the big deal is.”
The president has claimed for several days that the transcript of the call would clear up the controversy and that he hesitated in releasing it only because of the precedent it sets for releasing the details of calls with foreign leaders.
Explain it: What’s going on with Trump, Ukraine and Biden?
Confirmed: Trump acknowledges he delayed aid for Ukraine
Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have pushed claims for months that Biden as vice president sought the ouster in 2016 of Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin to stop an investigation into Burisma Group, a Ukrainian energy company where his son Hunter served on the board of directors.
The push by the vice president came alongside calls for Ukraine to get rid of Shokin from European diplomats and the U.S. State Department because international leaders said Shokin did too little to fight corruption in the Eastern European country.
Trump is scheduled to meet with Zelensky on Wednesday. “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever,” he said Tuesday at the United Nations.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, Aamer Madhani, Maureen Groppe