Impeachment inquiry: Transcript confirms Trump asked Ukraine leader to investigate Biden

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Barbs flew all over the place in Washington as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the White House of engaging in a cover up to hide the phone conversation between President Trump and Ukraine's president.
US President Donald Trump said on Sept 24 he will release the "fully declassified" transcript of a controversial call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky which is fuelling Democratic calls for his impeachment. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July telephone call to investigate whether former vice-president Joe Biden shut down an investigation into a company that employed his son, a summary of the call released by the Trump administration on Wednesday (Sept 25) showed.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced that the Democratic-led House was moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry and directed six committees to proceed with investigations of the President's actions.

Democrats have accused Mr Trump, who is seeking re-election next year, of soliciting Ukraine's help to smear Mr Biden, the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, before the 2020 election.

"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," Mr Trump said in the call, according to the summary provided by the Justice Department.

"Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me," Mr Trump said, according to the memo.

The call occurred after Mr Trump ordered the US government to freeze about US$390 million (S$537 million) in American aid to Ukraine.

The House inquiry could lead to articles of impeachment in the House that could trigger a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.

"The actions of the Trump presidency revealed a dishonourable fact of the President's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections," Ms Pelosi said on Tuesday.

Mr Trump has withstood repeated scandals since taking office in 2017 and House Democrats had considered, but never moved ahead with, pursuing articles of impeachment over Mr Trump's actions relating to Russian interference in the 2016 US election aimed at boosting his candidacy.

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Under the US Constitution, the House has the power to impeach a president for "high crimes and misdemeanours".

No president has ever been removed through impeachment.

Democrats currently control the House and Mr Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate.

Mr Biden, who served as US vice-president from 2009 to 2013, is the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr Trump is seeking a second four-year term in the November 2020 election.

The US has been giving military aid to Ukraine since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The US$391.5 million in aid at issue in the current controversy was approved by the US Congress to help Ukraine deal with an insurgency by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Mr Trump on Sunday acknowledged that he discussed Mr Biden and Mr Biden's son Hunter, who had worked for a company drilling for gas in Ukraine, with President Zelensky.

Mr Trump on Monday denied trying to coerce Mr Zelensky in the July 25 phone call to launch a corruption investigation into Mr Biden and his son in return for the US military aid.

Mr Trump has offered differing reasons for why he wanted the money for Ukraine frozen, initially saying it was because of corruption in Ukraine and then saying it was because he wanted European countries like France and Germany, not the US, to take the lead in providing assistance to Kiev.

The current controversy arose after a whistle-blower from within the US intelligence community brought a complaint with an internal watchdog relating to Mr Trump's conversation with Mr Zelensky.

Even though federal law calls for such complaints to be disclosed to Congress, the Trump administration has refused to do so.

Mrs Pelosi on Tuesday said Mr Trump's actions had "seriously violated the Constitution" and accused his administration of violations of federal law.

US intelligence agencies and a special counsel named by the Justice Department previously concluded that Russia boosted Mr Trump's 2016 presidential election bid with a campaign of hacking and propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Snippets from Trump's conversation with Ukrainian President

Here are excerpts from the transcript of a July 25 phone call between US President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trump: I would like you to do us a favour 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 saw 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 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 is very important that you do it if that is possible.

Zelensky: Yes, it is very important to me and everything that you just mentioned. 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...

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 is 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 (Rudy) 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 is happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him, that would be great...

The other thing, there is a lot of talk about (former vice-president Joe) 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.

Zelensky: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I am knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor-general will be 100 per cent 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.

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