Politics

Trump asked Ukraine president in phone call 'if you can look into' Biden and his son

Key Points
  • President Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to "look into" former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, during a phone call in July.
  • The call lasted about 30 minutes, according to a White House memorandum released Wednesday.
  • The conversation is reportedly a central part of the whistleblower complaint that spurred House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support an impeachment inquiry against Trump.
VIDEO4:3704:37
Pres. Trump discussed Biden's son in phone call with Ukraine president

President Donald Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to "look into" former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to a White House memorandum of a July phone call released Wednesday.

"There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great," Trump said in the July 25 call, according to the memo. "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it, It sounds horrible to me."

Those were the only mentions of Biden in the five-page memorandum. Despite Trump's promise to release the "fully declassified and unredacted transcript," the memorandum notes that it is "not a verbatim transcript" of the discussion.

The call lasted about 30 minutes, according to the memorandum.

The conversation with Zelensky is reportedly a central part of the whistleblower complaint that spurred many Democrats to support an impeachment inquiry against Trump. Democrats are demanding that the Justice Department release the full whistleblower complaint and allow the whistleblower to testify to congressional committees.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been reluctant to take impeachment steps, announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump on Tuesday. "The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of integrity of our elections," Pelosi said.

VIDEO4:4104:41
Ukraine president: Trump and I had a good, normal phone call

Trump has maintained that the call with Zelensky was "perfect," and that there was no "quid pro quo."

Department of Justice officials in the agency's criminal division concluded that the call did not constitute a campaign finance violation, NBC News' Pete Williams reported Wednesday. That division determined last week that what Trump was asking Zelensky for did not amount to a "thing of value" as the law requires, an official told NBC.

But Democrats have raised broader concerns about whether Trump solicited a foreign leader to dig up dirt on Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 presidential election.

They are also concerned about why Trump reportedly decided to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine at least a week before the call with Zelensky.

The timing of that move, which was criticized for being done without a good explanation, has bred speculation that Trump may have used the military assistance as leverage to pressure Zelensky.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., characterized the call as a "classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader."

In the memorandum of the call, Zelensky noted that Ukraine was "almost ready to buy more [Javelin missiles] from the United States for defense purposes."

Trump responded: "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine." Trump appears to be referring in this instance to the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, though it is not entirely clear.

Ukraine has fought against pro-Russia separatists for more than five years, after Russian troops invaded the Crimean peninsula.

VIDEO3:0703:07
Trump: Hope Ukraine president and Putin can meet and solve problems

Trump and his personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have accused Biden of corruption over his pressuring Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who reportedly oversaw a probe into the owner of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings, of which Hunter Biden was a board member.

There's no clear evidence that Biden's actions as vice president were intended to help his son; other nations had also called for the Ukrainian prosecutor's resignation. Hunter Biden has not been accused of wrongdoing related to his work with the company.

After Trump suggested in the call that Ukraine "look into" Biden and his son, Zelensky said he is appointing a new prosecutor "look into the situation."

Trump then said that he "will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General [William] Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it."

Stocks showed little reaction to the transcript's release. However, investors remain concerned over the impeachment inquiry as it could weaken Trump's stance in U.S.-China trade negotiations. It could also delay the ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trilateral trade deal that Trump wants to replace NAFTA.