Trump defends 'nothing' call after memo shows him requesting Biden probe

"It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, 'I never knew you could be so nice,'" the president said, defending the conversation amid sharp congressional scrutiny.

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By Shannon Pettypiece

President Donald Trump called a phone conversation where he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival a “perfect call” and a “nothing call” on Wednesday as he doubled down on his defense.

“There was no pressure, the way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell,” Trump told reporters during a meeting at the United Nations after a summary of the call was released. "It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, 'I never knew you could be so nice.'”

The president then looked to divert attention to allegations he has made against Democrats and to the strength of the U.S. economy. He also revived attacks he used during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, calling the Ukraine controversy the “single great witch hunt in American history.”

"It's all a hoax," Trump told reporters Wednesday. "I call it 'the hoax.' It's just a continuation of the witch hunt."

Trump, in a midsummer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asked him to explore why that country's top prosecutor apparently had ended an investigation into the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

A memo with a detailed 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 officers and National Security Council policy staff" who listen to official conversations.

As Trump met with Zelenskiy Wednesday in New York, the Ukrainian president told reporters he felt no pressure from Trump on the call, and hadn't pushed anyone to take action on an investigation into Biden following the conversation.

"We had, I think, a good phone call," Zelenskiy told reporters, with Trump seated beside him. "It was normal, we spoke about many things, I think you read. Nobody pushed me."

Trump said he wanted Zelenskiy "to do whatever he can" on corruption, adding that his own personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, "has every right" to be investigating possible misdeeds in the Ukraine.

Trump had said in the July call that he wanted Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to speak with Zelenskiy.

Later Wednesday, at a news conference, the president accused Democrats of timing the emergence of the Ukraine developments to embarrass him in front of world leaders.

“The Democrats did this hoax during the United Nations week,” Trump said. “It was perfect, because this way it takes away from the tremendous achievements that we’re doing, that we’re involved in.”

“That was all planned,” he said.

Trump also expressed shock that an impeachment inquiry would even be under consideration for his actions.

“It’s a joke. Impeachment? For that?” he asked. “When you have a wonderful meeting or a you have a wonderful phone conversation?”

But the president also revealed that he’d held a “beautiful”call with Zelenskiy prior to the July one —and he told Democrats “you can have it any time you need it.”

“They were all perfect. It's very sad what the Democrats are doing to this country," he said. "People laugh at this stupidity of what they've asked for."

In a tweetstorm earlier in the day, following the release of the memo, Trump sought to divert attention to a story about several Democrats in Congress writing to the Ukrainian government related to the Mueller investigation, quoted a Fox News anchor saying there was no "direct quid pro quo," and fumed that Democrats owed him an apology.

Trump has tweeted or posted retweets about the Ukraine controversy and the Democrats push for impeachment more than 40 times since arriving in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.

“Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call — got them by surprise!” Trump tweeted Wednesday, following the memo's release.

That apology will not be coming. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal inquiry on Tuesday, saying that the president’s growing Ukraine scandal marked a breach of his constitutional responsibilities.

“The fact is that the president of the United States, in breach of his constitutional responsibilities, has asked a foreign government to help him in his political campaign at the expense of our national security, as well as undermining the integrity of our elections. That cannot stand,” Pelosi said Wednesday shortly after the release of the transcript. “He will be held accountable. No one is above the law.”

Only one Senate Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, has raised concern with the call so far, calling the conversation detailed in the memo “troubling in the extreme."

Trump's campaign, along with congressional supporters, has also argued that the latest effort is another attempt by the Democrats to overturn the 2016 election results. The campaign says it raised $1 million online for an “Official Impeachment Defense Task Force” as of Tuesday night that they expect to raise about $3 million online in the first 24 hours since the impeachment inquiry news broke.

"The facts prove the president did nothing wrong," the campaign said in a statement. "This is just another hoax from Democrats and the media, contributing to the landslide re-election of President Trump in 2020.”

Monica Alba contributed.