On Wednesday morning, the White House cowed to demands and released a summary transcript of President Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call took place in July and has been at the center of a growing controversy that pushed the House of Representatives to begin the formal impeachment process.
At issue with the call is whether Trump pressured Zelensky to open an investigation into Vice President Joe Biden over whether Biden had acted improperly against a Ukrainian prosecutor while he was working for the Obama administration. The claims against Biden revolve around work his son was doing with a Ukranian gas company and are unfounded, but Trump has continued to tout them over the last week; his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been doing so for months.
The transcript released Wednesday is a summary of the call based on the recollections and notes of those who were in the room, rather than a verbatim recording of what was said. But even still, it reveals that Trump began the call with Zelensky by emphasizing how much aid the U.S. provides to Ukraine compared with European countries. "I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time," Trump said, per the transcript.
Then he continued: "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." He mentioned CrowdStrike — the Ukranian tech firm hired to investigate the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, which connected the breach to Russia — and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who had testified about his report before Congress the day before the phone call. He then brought up Biden, who is currently his leading rival in the 2020 election.
"I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair," Trump told Zelensky. He suggested that he have Giuliani call Zelensky, saying, "If you could speak to him that would be great," and additionally said that Attorney General William Barr should be involved as well.
"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son," the president continued, "that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with [Barr] would be great." He then falsely claimed that "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution" — when in reality the investigation was long dormant, and Biden's work was backed by the international community — and said, "so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me."
In varying ways over the last week, Trump has admitted to bringing up Biden on the call. He also at one point conceded he discussed the aid money, which the U.S. has disbursed annually since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, though he insisted Tuesday on Twitter that there was "NO quid pro quo." He authorized the summary transcript's release Tuesday amid mounting pressure.
The story broke last week amid the revelation that Trump had made a "promise" on a phone call with a foreign leader that was seen as so troubling a whistleblower complaint was filed. The Trump-appointed inspector general for the intelligence community found the complaint to be "urgent" and credible. The White House has blocked the full complaint from being disclosed to Congress; the conversation about Biden is thought to only be one part of the issue.
Also Wednesday, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz reported that the same inspector general had referred a criminal complaint to the Department of Justice last month, requesting an investigation over "whether the president's pushing for Ukraine to investigate [Biden] ... was a violation of campaign finance law." The DOJ, under Barr, declined last week to open a formal investigation.
The situation turned the tide of impeachment in the Democrat-controlled House, which moved to launch a formal impeachment inquiry late Tuesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had long resisted calls to impeach the president, but even vulnerable Democrats in swing districts had spoken in favor of impeachment as more details emerged about Trump's communications with Ukraine.