Donald Trump, his aides and allies went on the offensive on Sunday, over what the president claims is un-investigated corruption involving Joe Biden and his son in Ukraine.
In return, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee said the president’s reported conduct in the matter may make impeachment “the only remedy that is coequal to the evil”.
Donald Trump is reported to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate claims about Biden, the Democratic presidential frontrunner.
On Saturday, Biden, who has denied all wrongdoing, accused Trump of an “overwhelming abuse of power”.
On Sunday, leaving the White House for Texas and Ohio, Trump told reporters he was “not looking to hurt Biden, but he did a very dishonest thing”.
Seeming to move closer to admitting he did discuss Biden with Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he added: “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place. Was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice-President Biden and his son, [contributing] to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
He added: “We had a great conversation. We had a conversation on many things.”
We may have crossed the RubiconAdam Schiff
Republican claims about Ukraine concern Hunter Biden’s work for a gas company in the country and a visit by the then vice-president in March 2016, in which he pressed for the firing of the country’s top prosecutor.
“You don’t get to approve a prosecutor in a foreign country unless something fishy is going on,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed on Fox News Sunday.
The firing of Viktor Shokin was in fact an aim of the US, its allies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
An investigation into the company for which Hunter Biden worked was dormant at the time of the vice-president’s visit. In May 2019, Ukraine’s prosecutor general told Bloomberg, “We do not see any wrongdoing” by the Bidens.
In a disjointed interview with Fox News Sunday, Giuliani also tried to link the former vice-president to the billionaire philanthropist George Soros; to the production of a notorious dossier on Trump by Fusion GPS; and to “the $1.5bn that the Biden family took out of China while that guy was negotiating for us”, all without offering evidence.
“This will be a lot bigger than Spiro Agnew,” Giuliani said, perhaps ill-advisedly referring to Richard Nixon’s vice-president who resigned in 1973, amid the Watergate scandal that would bring down the president.
Giuliani has admitted seeking to pressure Ukrainian authorities. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that in a 25 July call with Zelenskiy, Trump asked eight times for the Bidens to be investigated.
The call is reportedly the subject of an intelligence services whistleblower complaint which the White House is refusing to release to Congress.
It has been suggested that Trump may have threatened to withhold military aid. About a month after the call, $250m in military assistance to a country fighting Russian-backed separatists was delayed. It was released this month, after the existence of the whistleblower complaint became public.
Chris Murphy, a Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday: “The timing is obviously incredibly suspicious.”
I do think if Vice-President Biden behaved inappropriately …we need to get to the bottom of thatMike Pompeo
On Friday the Ukrainian foreign minister said the aid was not discussed in the July call, which he said was “long and friendly”.
On Sunday Trump said the conversation was “perfect” and there was “no quid pro quo”. He has not denied asking Zelinskiy to investigate the Bidens.
The former vice-president, who in Iowa on Saturday said “Trump is using this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum”, has called for the transcript to be released. So have allies of Trump. In Texas, the president suggested he might do so.
It is not certain the call is the subject of the whistleblower complaint which, against legal precedent, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to release.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, told CNN’s State of the Union: “Clearly [Trump] is afraid of the public seeing such things.”
Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNN and NBC showing the complaint to Congress “would be a terrible precedent”, as conversations between world leaders should be confidential and not released after “political complaints”.
Mnuchin said he did not know what was said on the call between Trump and Zelinskiy.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo went further, telling ABC’s This Week: “I do think if Vice-President Biden behaved inappropriately, if he was protecting his son and intervened with the Ukrainian leadership in a way that was corrupt, I do think we need to get to the bottom of that.”
Schiff made unusually strong remarks about the prospects of Trump being impeached over Ukraine, as reports of his behaviour meant “we may have crossed the Rubicon”.
Of Giuliani, he said: “Betraying your country … is one thing when it’s done by the court jester, another thing when by the man who would be king.”
In a letter to Democratic lawmakers, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said failure to disclose the complaint to Congress would mark “a grave new chapter of lawlessness” and “a whole new stage of investigation”.
House Democrats are already exploring impeachment over Trump’s links to Russia and its interference in the 2016 election. Schiff cited Senate Republican opposition to impeachment as one reason still to go slow, and said his party needed public support.
Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014, backs separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The Washington Post cited a former senior US official as saying Trump thought military aid to Ukraine “was pointless and just aggravating the Russians”.
“The president’s position basically is, we should recognise the fact that the Russians should be our friends, and who cares about the Ukrainians?”
Trump and Zelinskiy are due to meet at the United Nations in New York next week.