President Donald Trump on Monday denied holding up a U.S. aid package to Ukraine if its then-incoming president refused to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
“I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I won’t give you aid,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an U.N. General Assembly session in New York.
Democratic lawmakers and 2020 White House hopefuls spent much of last week and the weekend saying Trump broke the law by doing just that, which would have the president seeking a personal benefit and trying to use U.S. government resources to do so, which could violate federal laws.
The call included an alleged “promise” by Trump to Zelensky that caused an U.S. intelligence official to file a formal complaint; the administration is refusing to turn over the complaint document to Congress, as required by law.
But earlier Monday, the president all but confirmed he discussed the Bidens with Zelensky during a July 25 telephone conversation.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?” he told reporters. “It’s very important that, on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption.”
As vice president, Joe Biden came under scrutiny from the Obama administration State Department and media for pushing for Ukraine’s previous government to crack down on corruption while Hunter Biden served on the energy company’s board of directors. Some in the State Department raised concerns about conflicts of interest.
No government entities in the United States nor Ukraine have suggested Joe or Hunter Biden acted inappropriately or broke any laws.
Trump opened the line of attack on Biden last week as RealClearPolitics’ average of a handful of public opinion polls shows gave the former vice president and longtime Delaware senator an 11.7-percentage point lead nationally over Trump in a hypothetical general election race.
An animated Biden over the weekend accused the president creating a straw man out of pure political desperation.
“This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power to get on the phone with a foreign leader who is looking for help from the United States and ask about me and imply things,” Biden told reporters in Iowa.
On Monday, Trump continued his line of attack, saying, without specifying that Biden “did a very, very bad thing.”
Senior Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California have tried to push the president into a corner by saying if he did nothing wrong during the telephone conversation, he should merely make the transcript public.
As always, the president danced around making a solid commitment on Monday.
Instead, he merely said the White House “may” order its release.
“I hope you will get to see the call,” Trump said, contradicting top aides yet again. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas GOP congressman, has said the administration is unlikely to make the call’s transcript public; he and other officials say it would set a dangerous “precedent” because any president needs to be able to talk candidly with other world leaders.
But Trump and his attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, have signaled he did press Zelensky to, once in office, open an investigation into the Bidens.
“How much money did his son make from Ukraine,” Trump said Monday afternoon as the matter dominated his first of three days at the General Assembly session. Government ethics officials like former U.S. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub say the president has for years used his office to illegally promote his private businesses, such as the Trump hotel in Washington and Mar-a-Lago in Florida.