Breaking News Emails
President Donald Trump, in a midsummer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asked him to look into why that country's top prosecutor apparently had ended an investigation of the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
"(Then-Vice President Joe) Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it. ... It sounds horrible to me," Trump told Zelenskiy during the 30-minute July 25 phone call.
A description of the call was made public Wednesday by the Trump administration under pressure from Democrats who have launched a formal impeachment inquiry to determine whether the president sought the help of a foreign leader to boost his campaign.
The White House noted that the summary of the call was not a verbatim transcript and that it represented a record of "the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty officers and National Security Council policy staff" who listen to official conversations.
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The president's phone call — made from the White House residence to Zelenskiy — began with Trump congratulating Zelenskiy on his election victory.
Later, Trump veers into the Biden issue.
"I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair,” Trump says on the call, according to the description.
Trump then says, "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.” He then asked Zelenskiy to look into it.
Zelenskiy replies that he’s appointing a new prosecutor who will “look into the situation.”
That is the only mention about Biden in the memo about the call. The call description is five pages long.
Trump said in the call that he wanted Rudy Giuliani — his personal lawyer — and Attorney General William Barr to talk to Zelenskiy.
Zelenskiy replies by saying he has the ability to make sure that the next prosecutor "will be 100 percent my person" and that "he or she will look into the situation." Zelenskiy also asks Trump to provide "any additional information."
"It would be very helpful for the investigation," he said.
The Department of Justice said Barr found out about the call several weeks after it was made. The matter was then referred to the DOJ.
The DOJ said Trump has not spoken with Barr about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to Biden or his son. And the department said the president has not asked Barr to contact Ukraine on this or any other matter; nor has Barr has communicated with Ukraine about this or any other subject, or has he discussed this matter, or anything related to Ukraine, with Giuliani.
Though it was not explicit, Trump also appears to tie the award of aid to Ukraine to Zelenskiy's willingness to cooperating with Trump.
"I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing," Trump says in the description.
He adds that "the United States has been very very good to Ukraine. I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine."
At another point in the call, Trump appears to ask Zelenskiy whether someone in the Ukraine might possess a server that contained some of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“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 on the call, according to the transcript.
Trump goes on to say he would like to have Barr "call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it." He added, "Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible."
Though it wasn't exactly clear what Trump was referring to, CrowdStrike is the name of the cybersecurity firm that was hired to investigate the hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016. DOJ officials were not able to shed any light on the matter.
CrowdStrike, in a statement, said that it had already "provided all forensic evidence and analysis" to the FBI regarding its DNC hack investigation.
"We stand by our findings and conclusions that have been fully supported by the US Intelligence community," the company added.
In the same exchange, Trump takes a shot at now-former special counsel Robert Mueller — who had testified before two House committees the day before the call on July 24.
"As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance," Trump says, according to the memo.
At another point in the call, Zelenskiy says he stayed in Trump Tower “near Central Park” the last time he traveled to the U.S.
Trump, speaking at the United Nations Wednesday, told reporters that he applied "no pressure whatsoever" in his phone call with Ukraine’s president. He said it was "friendly" and that the media built it up to be the "call from hell" and it turned out to be “nothing.”
Democrats, however, widely expressed outrage over the transcript's contents.
Biden said it was a "tragedy for this country" that Trump "put personal politics above his sacred oath" and accused the president of having "put his own political interests over our national security interest, which is bolstering Ukraine against Russian pressure."
"Congress must pursue the facts and quickly take prompt action to hold Donald Trump accountable. In the meantime, I will continue to focus my campaign not on how Donald Trump abused his power to come after my family, but on how he has turned his back on America's families," Biden said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who announced a formal impeachment inquiry Tuesday against Trump, criticized the president Wednesday for asking a foreign government to “help him in his political campaign at the expense of our national security.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the transcript "reads like a classic mob shakedown."
Biden's fellow 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said the notes represented a "smoking gun."
The late July discussion between Trump and Zelenskiy emerged as a flash point following a whistleblower complaint by a member of the U.S. intelligence community that media reports said was tied to the call between the two leaders. NBC News has not confirmed that Ukraine is at the center of the whistleblower issue.
An intelligence community employee heard about the call from "White House officials," according to the employee’s complaint to the inspector general of the intelligence community, and suggested it could be a violation of campaign finance law, as soliciting a foreign campaign contribution. DOJ’s office of Legal Counsel concluded that the complaint did not meet the standard for passing the complaint on to Congress, because it concerned neither an intelligence activity or intelligence employee’s conduct. But DOJ said the appropriate thing to do was to refer the matter to the Justice Department’s criminal division.
According to DOJ officials, the criminal division — including career employees — concluded that there was no campaign finance violation. A DOJ official said the criminal division concluded last week that what Trump was asking for did not amount to a “thing of value,” as the law requires.
In conducting its analysis, DOJ asked the White House for the notes of the president’s conversation — the so-called “transcript” — and the White House voluntarily turned it over.
DOJ officials say they do not know the identity of the whistleblower.