Two of President Donald Trump's staunchest congressional allies denied Sunday that he had asked Ukraine to investigate his "political rival" in pursuing a probe of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Those congressmen, Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., both said they rejected "the premise" of a question about whether it was appropriate for Trump to ask a foreign nation to investigate his political rival.
"I reject the premise of the question and that's [not] what the president was doing," Gaetz told ABC's "This Week." "I think the president was acting on a sincere, longly held view and skepticism of foreign aid. I think he was acting on concern about Ukraine being the third most corrupt country in the world. And I think he was also reflecting specific concern about this Biden connection to Burisma."
On CNN's "State of the Union," Meadows said Trump "didn't" ask Ukraine to probe his rival Biden.
"I don't agree with your premise," he said. "He talked about investigations. If you look at the — the transcript, I think he said, 'will you do us a favor,' based on the United States going through a lot, talking about 2016 elections."
(Trump, according to the reconstruction of the call released by the White House, told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinskiy, "I would like you to do us a favor though.")
"I mean, listen, it's appropriate to make sure that nothing was done wrong in Ukraine," Meadows added. "And, indeed, that's what he was talking about.”
Asked about fellow Republicans who have said Trump's request was inappropriate, he responded: "They are wrong."
The public push for Biden's Ukraine activity to be probed came from Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, around the same time Biden launched his presidential bid. In May, Giuliani told NBC News the effort was not to try and "take [Biden] out" of the presidential race, but to do "him a favor by trying to get it investigated now" because "it wasn't going to live through November of next year."
According to a White House summary of the president's July 25 call with Zelenskiy, Trump asked his counterpart to probe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that was under investigation.
"The other thing, 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 on that call. "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me."
There has been no evidence that Biden acted improperly in handling Ukraine policy while his son was on the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that was at one time under investigation by the country's then-lead prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, and Biden has denied any wrongdoing. The Bidens spoke once about the younger Biden's Ukrainian business dealings, they both have said. Last week, Biden called a voter a "damn liar" for alleging that he "sent" his son to Ukraine to sit on the Burisma board.
Biden in 2016 pushed for Shokin's ouster in accordance with the wishes of multiple countries and international bodies, including the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, because of widespread concerns that Shokin was ignoring corruption. The investigation into Burisma was reportedly dormant by the time Biden pushed for Shokin's ouster.
Asked on CNN why Republicans did not call for investigations into Biden's conduct when they held the House majority in the previous session, Meadows said it was because they "didn't know about it at the particular time." CNN's Dana Bash pointed out that it "was public information."
"Well, I don't know about you. I don't know that any of your viewers go and look through Burisma's notice that Hunter Biden was there," Meadows said. "I think all of us can admit that we didn't know that Hunter Biden was getting $50,000-plus a month from a corrupt Ukrainian company.”
At the same time Trump was pushing for Ukraine to announce a probe of the Bidens and Democrats, the Trump administration also placed a hold on almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. That hold was released two days after Congress was made aware of a whistleblower complaint that would later lead to the impeachment inquiry. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on her committee chairmen to begin drafting articles of impeachment against Trump.