Trump acknowledges discussing ‘corruption’ with new Ukrainian leader

‘Why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?’ he asks

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he departs the Capitol after the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on March 14. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he departs the Capitol after the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on March 14. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 23, 2019 at 12:00pm

President Donald Trump on Monday acknowledged he talked to Ukraine’s new president about that country’s government investigating former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company.

“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?” Trump told reporters at a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, appearing to confirm he wanted to leverage an aid package to Ukraine for it to investigate Biden. “It’s very important that, on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption.”

Some Democratic lawmakers and the party’s leading presidential candidates, including front-runner Biden, have called for a House investigation of just what Trump discussed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnky.

[Battling inner conflict on Iran, Trump heads to UN session]

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani claims the president did nothing wrong in pressing Zelensky to open a probe of Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s involvement with the company.

And Trump on Friday said it “doesn’t matter” what he discussed with Zelensky, who was president-elect during the July 25 telephone call that prompted an intelligence community official to file a formal complaint with the intelligence community’s top inspector general.

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House Democrats, more than half of whom supported impeachment proceedings before the Ukraine-Biden matter blew up last week, have zeroed in on Trump’s alleged refusal to release the military aid package unless Zelensky agreed to investigate one of his top political foes.

Trump repeatedly has said he views Biden as one of only three Democratic candidates — along with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — strong enough to capture the party’s 2020 nomination and face him in a general election.

His aides acknowledge the president knows Biden would be a tough opponent, bringing a set of more centrist proposed policies than Warren and Sanders that could appeal to moderate suburban voters.

[Analysis: Amid ‘Whistleblowergate,’ Trump again suggests his office has unlimited powers]

In essence, Democrats and some legal experts see the president having tried to garner a personal benefit — a politically damaged Biden — in return for U.S. government aid.

“I don’t know if the whistleblower complaint is on this allegation, but if it is, and even if it isn’t, why doesn’t the president just say, ’Release the whistleblower complaint?’” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Clearly, he’s afraid for the public to see either one of those things, and we’re determined to make sure that the public does and that the nation is protected.”

Schiff has shied away from endorsing an impeachment process, but shifted his tone on Sunday.

“I think the founders contemplated, in a country that has elections every four years, that this would be an extraordinary remedy, a remedy of last resort and not first resort,” he said of impeachment. “But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit, providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that that conduct represents.”

Schiff added: “We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”

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