WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pressed Ukraine's leader to "look into" Democratic rival Joe Biden as well as his grievances from the 2016 election, according to a rough transcript of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats' impeachment probe into Trump.
Trump repeatedly prodded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer. At one point in the conversation, Trump said, "I would like for you to do us a favor."
The president's words set the parameters for the debate to come — just the fourth impeachment investigation of an American president in the nation's history. The initial response highlighted the deep divide between the two parties: Democrats said the call amounted to a "shakedown" of a foreign leader, while Trump — backed by the vast majority of Republicans — dismissed it as a "nothing call."
The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint on the president's activities. After being stymied by the administration, lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees will get their first look at the complaint on Wednesday. Congress is also seeking an in-person interview with the whistleblower, who remains anonymous.
Trump spent Wednesday meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable TV split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. Included on his schedule: a meeting with Zelenskiy.
In a light-hearted appearance before reporters, Zelenskiy said he didn't want to get involved in American elections, but added, "Nobody pushed me." Trump chimed in, "In other words, no pressure."
The next steps in the impeachment inquiry were still developing a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the probe. Moderate Democrats, including some from districts where Trump remains popular, urged the speaker to keep the inquiry to Ukraine and not expand into other issues Congress had already been investigating.
"We need to be disciplined about how we communicate," said Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan. "The minute we're talking about the intricacies of process is the minute that we are losing people."
Pelosi announced the impeachment probe on Tuesday after months of resistance to a process she has warned would be divisive for the country and risky for her party. But after viewing the transcript on Wednesday, Pelosi declared: Congress must act."
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to move toward impeachment, confident that the specter of an investigation led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.
"It's a joke. Impeachment, for that?" Trump said during a news conference in New York. He revived the same language he has used for months to deride the now-finished special counsel investigation into election interference, declaring impeachment "a hoax" and the "single greatest witch hunt in American history."
Republicans largely stood by the president and dismissed the notion that the rough transcript revealed any wrongdoing by Trump.
"I think it was a perfectly appropriate phone call, it was a congratulatory phone call," said Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican. "The Democrats continually make these huge claims and allegations about President Trump, and then you find out there's no there there."
The memo released by the White House was not a verbatim transcript, but was instead based on the records of officials who listened to the call. The conversation took place on July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference.
In the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr about Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine's economy, saying: "Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country."
At another point in the conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a favor: his help looking into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and determined it was carried out by Russia. Trump has falsely suggested Crowdstrike was owned by a Ukrainian.
In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
Biden said it was "tragedy" that Trump was willing to "put personal politics above his sacred oath." He singled out Trump's attempts to pull Barr and the Justice Department into efforts to investigate Biden, calling it "a direct attack on the core independence of that department, an independence essential to the rule of law."
While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.
Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump's businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.
But details of Trump's dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi announced the probe, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.
The burden will probably now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.
Read the transcript memo below.
TRUMP: Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States and you did a terrific job. The way you came from behind, somebody who wasn't given much of a chance, and you ended up winning easily. It's a fantastic achievement. Congratulations.
ZELENSKIY: You are absolutely right Mr. President. We did win big and we worked hard for this. We worked a lot but I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and were able to use it as an example for our elections and yes it is true that these were unique elections. We were in a unique situation that we were able to achieve a unique success. I'm able to tell you the following; the first time, you called me to congratulate me when I won my presidential election, and the second time you are now calling me when my party won the parliamentary election. I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.
TRUMP: (laughter) That's a very good idea. I think your country is very happy about that.
ZELENSKIY: Well yes, to tell you the truth, we are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country. We brought in many many new people. Not the old politicians, not the typical politicians, because we want to have a new format and a new type of government. You are a great teacher for us and in that.
TRUMP: Well it's very nice of you to say that. 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 and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it's something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn't do anything. A lot of the European countries are the same way so think it's something you want to look at but 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.
ZELENSKIY: Yes you are absolutely right. Not only 100%, but actually 1000% and I can tell you the following; I did talk to Angela Merkel and I did meet with her. I also met and talked with Macron and I told them that they are not doing quite as much as they need to be doing on the issues with the sanctions. They are not enforcing the sanctions. They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine. It turns out that even though logically, the European Union should be our biggest partner but technically the United States is a much bigger partner than the European Union and I'm very grateful to you for that because the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine. Much more than the European Union especially when we are talking about sanctions against the Russian Federation. I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.
TRUMP: 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. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible.
ZELENSKIY: Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine. For that purpose, I just recalled our ambassador from United States and he will be replaced by a very competent and very experienced ambassador who will work hard on making sure that our two nations are getting closer. I would also like and hope to see him having your trust and your confidence and have personal relations with you so we can cooperate even more so. I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. G1uliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us. I will make sure that I surround myself with the best and most experienced people. I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.
TRUMP: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. 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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.
ZELENSKIY: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand and I'm knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.
TRUMP: Well, she's going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I'm sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, their incredible people.
ZELENSKIY: I would like to tell you that I also have quite a few Ukrainian friends that live in the United States. Actually last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower. I will talk to them and I hope to see them again in the future. I also wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation. As to the economy, there is much potential for our two countries and one of the issues that is very important for Ukraine is energy independence. I believe we can be very successful and cooperating on energy independence with United States. We are already working on cooperation. We are buying American oil but I am very hopeful for a future meeting. We will have more time and more opportunities to discuss these opportunities and get to know each other better. I would like to thank you very much for your support.
TRUMP: Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we'll work that out. I look forward to seeing you.
ZELENSKIY: Thank you very much. I would be very happy to come and would be happy to meet with you personally and get to know you better. I am looking forward to our meeting and also would like to invite you to visit Ukraine and come to the city of Kyiv which is a beautiful city. We have a beautiful country which would welcome you. On the other hand, I believe that on September 1 we will be in Poland and we can meet in Poland hopefully. After that, it might be a very good idea for you to travel to Ukraine. We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.
TRUMP: Okay. We can work that out. I look forward to seeing you in Washington and maybe in Poland because I think we are going to be there at that time.
ZELENSKIY: Thank you very much Mr. President.
TRUMP: Congratulations on a fantastic job you've done. The whole world was watching. I'm not sure it was so much of an upset but congratulations.
ZELENSKIY: Thank you Mr. President bye-bye.