- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2019

President Trump confirmed Sunday that he spoke about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden in a midsummer call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky but said he did nothing wrong, as Democrats warned these latest charges may have “crossed the Rubicon” and into impeachment territory.

Leaving the White House on Sunday, Mr. Trump insisted the conversation that has consumed Washington for several days was “largely congratulatory.”

But, he added, “it was largely corruption — all of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

Mr. Trump didn’t say whether he pressed Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Biden, the front-runner to become his Democratic rival in the 2020 election, or other members of the Biden family during the July 25 call.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Mr. Trump urged Mr. Zelensky “about eight times” to cooperate with his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani on investigating Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden over a possible nexus between the son’s business interests and the vice president’s push in 2016 to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor.

The conversation is believed to be at the heart of a whistleblower complaint that the Trump administration is keeping out of the hands of Congress, sparking yet another investigation into whether Mr. Trump used foreign actors for political gain.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday that Congress needs to know whether Mr. Trump held up $250 million in aid to Ukraine as part of an attempt to extract dirt on Mr. Biden. The aid was released Sept. 12, but an unusual delay coincided with Mr. Trump’s interest in Mr. Biden’s activities.

If Mr. Trump demanded such a quid pro quo, then impeachment “may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that conduct represents,” said Mr. Schiff, who long has pushed impeachment investigations against Mr. Trump.

“This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath,” Mr. Schiff told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”

The inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community, who received a complaint about Mr. Trump’s interactions with the Ukrainian leader, deemed it an “urgent concern,” yet acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire won’t turn over the complaint to lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, urged Republicans on Sunday to join Democrats in calling for Mr. Maguire to “obey the law” and turn over the whistleblower’s complaint when he testifies before Congress at midweek.

The law requires Mr. Maguire to turn over the complaint, she said, so failure to do so would endanger national security and have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers.

“We must be sure that the president and his administration are always conducting our national security and foreign policy in the best interest of the American people, not the president’s personal or political interest,” Mrs. Pelosi said in a “dear colleague” letter that she sent to both Democrats and Republicans.

Many Republicans have rallied to defend Mr. Trump, either by questioning the whistleblower’s motives or calling on the media to investigate Mr. Biden.

Yet Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, said he needs to learn more about Mr. Trump’s conduct.

“If the president asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,” he tweeted. “Critical for the facts to come out.”

Another Senate Republican, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, didn’t criticize Mr. Trump directly but did suggest it would be wrong for a president to seek a political leg up from a foreign nation.

“Look, it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country,” Mr. Toomey told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That’s not appropriate. But I don’t know that that’s what happened here.”

The president, traveling in Texas, said he will consider ways to release details about his call with Mr. Zelensky.

He also said he would have “no problem” with Mr. Giuliani testifying to Congress about his recent meetings with Ukrainians. He called his attorney a “straight shooter.”

But Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said forcing the president to hand over a full transcript of the Zelensky call would set a poor precedent regarding presidential power and diplomatic confidentiality.

“These are confidential discussions between world leaders,” he said.

Mr. Trump questioned the whistleblower’s motives, saying presidents should speak freely with foreign leaders and “you can’t have people doing this.”

He tried to flip pressure back onto Mr. Biden, pointing to the former vice president’s claim that he never spoke about business with his son despite evidence to the contrary.

“This is a very dishonest thing that Joe Biden did, and then he said he never spoke to his son. Does anybody believe that one?” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump also highlighted a statement from the Ukrainian foreign minister, who said his country did not feel pressured by the U.S. during the midsummer call.

“It was a beautiful, warm, nice conversation. It was put out last night also by Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said.

Democrats say they cannot rely on that statement because Ukraine is in an awkward diplomatic position and is beholden to the Trump administration for aid money for at least one year and possibly five.

Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said Mr. Trump put Ukraine through a nervous ordeal by holding back expected aid this summer.

Mr. Zelensky was “really worried about these overtures he was getting, from particularly from Rudy Giuliani, and he didn’t understand whether this was an official government position, these requests to investigate the former vice president,” Mr. Murphy told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” recounting a visit to Kyiv.

Mr. Trump released the aid to Ukraine on Sept. 12 and even extended $140 million more.

The president downplayed the delay by saying he was worried that the U.S. was shouldering too much of the financial burden.

“I backed Ukraine from the beginning, but I’m very upset that other countries aren’t doing the same,” Mr. Trump said. “Germany should be spending much more, France, all of the European Union should be spending money. Why are we spending money and they’re not? Or at least they’re spending very little by comparison, so I’m not happy about that.”

The White House confirmed that Mr. Trump is scheduled to meet with Mr. Zelensky on Wednesday on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, a meeting that is sure to fan the flames of the saga.

A senior administration official said Mr. Trump will focus on “congratulating President Zelensky on his election victories and the incredible energy and success President Zelensky has put forward in implementing the reform and anti-corruption efforts.”

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this story.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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