U.S. President Donald Trump is denying he said anything "wrong" in a telephone conversation with the new president of Ukraine during which Trump allegedly urged him to investigate the son of former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
Democrats meanwhile stepped up their criticism of the president for what they characterized as an attempt to engage a foreign leader in a scheme to damage the candidacy of Trump's leading rival in the 2020 campaign.
Trump tweeted Saturday morning he had a "perfectly fine and routine conversation" on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and that, "Nothing was said that was in any way wrong."
Trump accused Democrats and the news media of ignoring allegations against the Bidens and creating a false story about him.
"The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat (sic) Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won't get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate ... a story about me ..."
The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate a.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2019
Trump urged Zelenskiy about eight times during their conversation to investigate Biden's son, according to news reports citing people familiar with the matter. The sources were quoted saying Trump's intent was to get Zelenskiy to collaborate with Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani on an investigation that could undermine Biden.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko on Saturday denied Trump had pressured Zelenskiy during the call, telling the media outlet Hromadski that Ukraine would not take sides in U.S. politics even if the country was in a position to do so.
Trump and Giuliani have pushed for an investigation of the Bidens for weeks, following news reports this year that explored whether a Ukrainian energy company tried to secure influence in the U.S. by employing Biden's younger son, Hunter.
Democrats are condemning what they perceive as a concerted effort to damage Biden, who has been thrust into the middle of an unidentified whistleblower's complaint against Trump. Biden is currently the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Trump administration has blocked procedures under which the whistleblower complaint would have normally been forwarded by the U.S. intelligence community to members of the Democrat-controlled Congress, keeping its contents secret.
However a series of leaks have indicated the complaint is based on multiple events, including the July telephone conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy, two people familiar with the matter said. The sources were granted anonymity in order to discuss the issue.
One person briefed on the call said said Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The controversy unfolded amid a White House-ordered delay in the delivery of lethal military assistance to Ukraine, but the unnamed source was quoted saying Trump did not mention U.S. aid in his conversation with Zelenskiy.
Biden said late Friday that if the reports are accurate, "then there is truly no bottom to President Trump's willingness to abuse his power and abase our country." Biden also called on Trump to disclose the transcript of his conversation with Zelenskiy so "the American people can judge for themselves."
The intelligence community inspector general has described the whistleblower's August 12 complaint as "serious" and "urgent," conditions that would normally require him to forward the complaint to Congress. Trump has characterized the complaint as "just another political hack job."
The standoff raises new questions about the extent to which Trump's appointees, including the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, are protecting the Republican president from congressional oversight.
Democrats maintain the administration is legally required to give Congress access to the complaint. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said any attempt by Trump to urge a foreign country to "dig up dirt" on a political foe while withholding aid is inappropriate.
"No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country," Schiff tweeted Friday.
House Democrats are also battling the administration for access to witnesses and documents in ongoing impeachment investigations.
The whistleblower case has lawmakers investigating whether Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to help Trump's reelection chances by investigating Hunter Biden and whether his father intervened in the country's politics to help his son's business.
Late in the administration of then-President Barack Obama in 2016, Joe Biden was sent to Kyiv armed with a threat to withhold billions of dollars in government loan guarantees unless the country cracked down on corruption. Biden's primary demand was to fire the chief prosecutor at the time, Viktor Shokin, for ineffectiveness. Shokin was fired shortly thereafter.
But before the vice president arrived in Kyiv, Shokin had already opened an investigation into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company on which Hunter was a board member receiving $50,000 per month. Burisma is owned by Mykola Zlochevsky, a Ukrainian businessman and politician.
While Republicans are suggesting the senior Biden used the loan money as leverage force an end to the Bursima investigation, Bloomberg News, citing a former Ukrainian official and Ukrainian documents, reported that the probe had been dormant since 2015, long before Biden's trip to Kyiv.
Giuliani had meetings this year in New York with Shokin's successor, Yuriy Lutsenko. Around the same time, Ukraine revived the case against Burisma. The New York Times reported Lutsenko relaunched the probe to "curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally."
The reported timeline appears to be more consistent with Biden's contention that he was pushing for the ouster of a prosecutor who was failing to rein in rampant corruption, instead of seeking the firing of a prosecutor threatening a company linked to his son.
During a CNN interview Thursday, Giuliani initially said "No" when asked if he had asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, but said seconds later, "of course I did."