During a telephone call in July, US President Donald Trump repeatedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. Trump said about eight times that he worked with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on an investigation that could undermine the Democrat’s claims that he may run against the current president in the 2020 election.
Giuliani has already suggested that Biden’s pressure on Ukraine to fight corruption had to do with an investigation by a gas company that his son was a director. A Ukrainian official said this year that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden or his son, Hunter Biden.
In the call, Trump did not mention a provision of US aid to Ukraine, said one source, who does not believe the president offered any counterpart for cooperation in the case. Congressmen are investigating any connection between the review of foreign aid to Ukraine and efforts to pressure Kiev to investigate Biden.
The White House declined to comment on the episode. In a statement on Friday, Biden called on the US executive to release the transcript of the dialogue between Trump and Zelensky. The president said the call was “totally appropriate” but declined to comment if he would have asked for help in investigating Biden. At the same time, he reiterated his request for an investigation into Biden’s effort as vice president to dismiss the Ukrainian attorney general. “Someone has to figure it out,” he said.
What did Trump supposedly “promise”, and what is the problem?
The main questions still unanswered are essentially: Did President Trump make any kind of promise to a foreign government (apparently Ukraine) that would involve the use of official government resources for personal gain? And if he did not make a promise, how persistent were his efforts to obtain foreign assistance?
A whistleblower from the US intelligence community filed a complaint on August 12 alleging some kind of irregularity at high levels of the US government. But the complaint was not disclosed or shared with Congress.
A Washington Post report found this week that this employee’s complaint involves Trump and claims that he made some kind of “promise” to a foreign leader. The press then learned that the complaint involves Ukraine. On Friday afternoon, it emerged that Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a July 25 call to launch an investigation involving the Bidens. The information was first given by the Wall Street Journal, which said Trump pressed Zelensky about the issue about eight times.
Intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson reviewed the complaint and determined that it was credible. This usually means that there is confirmation beyond just the original source. Atkinson also determined that it was an “urgent” issue, which is a legal threshold requiring notification of the relevant parliamentary committees. In that case, the intelligence committees.
How does this involve Ukraine?
Trump’s team, specifically his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has already spoken publicly about his desire to convince the Ukrainian government to conduct certain investigations that may bring political benefits to Trump. This includes issues involving former Trump campaign president Paul Manafort, who was sentenced to prison, and the Biden family.
Giuliani this summer even planned a trip to Ukraine, which he readily admitted intended to benefit Trump, pushing for specific investigations. “I’m asking them to do an investigation they are already doing and other people are asking them to stop,” Giuliani told the New York Times in May. “And I will give you reasons for not closing (the investigation), because this information will be very, very useful for my client and may be useful for my government.” Giuliani ended up canceling the trip amid negative reaction.
Trump is also known to have spoken with Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, on July 25 – two and a half weeks before the complainant lodged the complaint – and that the government was withholding $ 250 million in military aid for Ukraine at the end of August. , before pressure from both parties to release the funds.
How much can this hurt Trump and his presidency?
That is the other big question right now. It is too early to know if it will be proven that Trump did something wrong. Even if the complaint is made public, it is not certain that things happened exactly as the complainant said. And just because Trump pushed for a Bidens investigation doesn’t mean there is a counterpart that can be proven.
Any specific legal violations will depend on these details. Asking for foreign help is problematic in itself, but this is the same president who publicly asked Russia to get Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016 and repeatedly indicated that he was open to foreign aid. The most worrying possibility (raised specifically by the claim that there was a “promise”) is that it may involve flagrant government corruption – the exchange of favors for personal gain.
However, even if Trump violated the law, Department of Justice guidelines say that a president cannot be indicted; therefore, any remediation would be the responsibility of Congress via possible impeachment proceedings.