Trump pressed Ukraine’s leader as Giuliani pushed for Biden inquiry

(Erin Schaff |The New York Times) President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. The internal watchdog for American spy agencies declined repeatedly in a briefing on Sept. 19 to disclose to lawmakers the content of a potentially explosive whistle-blower complaint that is said to involve a discussion between President Donald Trump and a foreign leader, according to two people familiar with the briefing. Schiff said none of the previous directors of national intelligence had ever refused to provide a whistle-blower complaint to Congress.

Washington • President Donald Trump repeatedly pressed his Ukrainian counterpart in a call to talk with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who had been urging the government in Kyiv for months to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family, according to people briefed on the call.

Trump’s desire for a Ukrainian investigation of Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is part of the secret whistleblower complaint that is said to be about Trump and at least in part about his dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The new revelations add to new scrutiny about Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. He has made no secret of his desire for Kyiv to investigate the Bidens, repeatedly raising it publicly.

But questions have emerged about whether Trump’s push for an inquiry into the Bidens was behind a weeks long White House hold on military aid for Ukraine. The United States suspended the military aid to Ukraine in early July, according to a former American official.

Trump did not discuss the aid in the July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine, and Kyiv did not learn of the suspension until August, according to people familiar with the call. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of it.

Trump dismissed earlier on Friday as a “partisan” attack the whistleblower complaint said to involve his dealings with Ukraine amid mounting questions about his interactions with the country’s new government.

“It’s a ridiculous story. It’s a partisan whistleblower,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, though he also acknowledged he did not know the person’s identity. “They shouldn’t even have information.”

When asked whether he had brought up Biden during the call with Zelenskiy, Trump waved away the question but added, “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

Biden said on Friday that the allegations that he or his son did anything wrong in Ukraine are baseless.

“Not one single outlet has given any credibility to his assertion,” Biden told reporters after a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said he had no more comment, but added: “The president should start to be president.”

The existence of the complaint, submitted by a member of the intelligence community to its inspector general, emerged late last week and exploded into the open late on Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that it concerned Trump. The administration has not shared the complaint with Congress, as is generally required by law, angering Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a sharp warning to the Trump administration on Friday, saying in a statement that the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, was violating the law by refusing to disclose the complaint to Congress.

“If the president has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his administration and our democracy,” she said in a statement.

After the Ukraine link emerged in news reports late Thursday, Giuliani shed more light on it in a rambling CNN appearance, where he first denied, then admitted, to asking the government in Kyiv to investigate the Bidens.

Giuliani has spearheaded a push for such an inquiry. He met with Zelenskiy’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to ramp up investigations into two matters regarding the Biden family: the question of any overlap with Biden’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine, as well as the details of his son’s involvement in a gas company there.

Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter shortly after his appearance on CNN asserting the same thought.

Trump and Zelenskiy will meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a senior administration official confirmed after Zelenskiy’s office announced the meeting on Friday.

In recent weeks, congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was delaying the military assistance package for Kyiv, according to people involved in an effort to free up the assistance.

Three Democratic House committee chairmen have requested the transcript of the president’s July call with Zelenskiy from the State Department and the White House as part of an investigation into whether Trump and Giuliani were misappropriating the U.S. foreign policy apparatus for political gain.

Vice President Mike Pence, who recently met with Zelenskiy in Poland, denied bringing up Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Biden in their conversations, but said Trump was still making the decision on “the latest tranche of financial support.”

Trump also sought to allay concerns about his dealings with other foreign leaders. Part of the whistleblower’s complaint deals with an unspecified commitment he made to an unnamed foreign leader, a person familiar with it has said. Trump also said Friday that he did not know the leader in question.

“I had a great conversation with numerous people, numerous leaders, and I always look for the conversation that’s going to help the United States the most,” he said. Sitting alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, who had just arrived for a state visit, Trump called his communications with other leaders “always appropriate.”