President Donald Trump repeatedly encouraged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, according to a memorandum about a July phone call between the two leaders released by the White House Wednesday morning. The memo is not verbatim.
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“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 is said to have told Zelensky. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
While President Trump invoked Biden’s name, it was Zelenskiy who brought Giuliani into the conversation. Trump later said, “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
Zelenskiy assured Trump that his new prosecutor general “will look into the situation.”
The memo released by the White House includes this cautionary language: CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place...."
The crux of the debate surrounding Joe Biden’s conduct in Ukraine refers back to the dismissal of the country’s former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, in 2016. At the time, Biden was leading U.S. policy toward Ukraine with an emphasis on cracking down on corruption, and called for Shokin to be fired.
Giuliani and Trump have accused Biden of calling for his dismissal because his office was investigating Burisma, where Biden’s son, Hunter, had a seat on the board of directors.
But the assertion that Biden acted to help his son has been undercut by widespread criticism of Shokin from several high-profile international leaders, including members of the European Union and International Monetary Fund, who said Biden's recommendation was well justified.
Democrats have accused President Trump of using his desire for an investigation into the Bidens as leverage with Zelenskiy, particularly in light of the fact that the White House had, at the time, withheld nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, which was later released.
While there is no explicit mention of the withheld aid money during the July 25 phone call, President Trump invoked the country’s financial fortunes after saying “we will get to the bottom of it.”
“Your economy is going to get better and better I predict,” Trump told Zelenskiy. “You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, their incredible people.”
In another instance, Zelenskiy thanked the president for “great support in the area of defense,” adding that Ukraine is “ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps, specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”
The next words from Trump: “I would like you to do us a favor though,” before launching into his grievances with special counsel Robert Mueller, whose testimony just one day earlier was clearly still on his mind.
“As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine,” Trump said. “Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
In response, Zelenskiy offered support, telling Trump, “Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation.”
The president’s July phone call with Zelenskiy set into motion a series of events that included a dramatic step forward in Democrats’ march toward impeachment.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of an official impeachment inquiry after a debate between Congressional Democrats and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence over how to handle a whistleblower complaint reportedly tied to Trump’s overtures to Zelenskiy during the call.
Asked Wednesday about the newly released transcript, Pelosi told ABC News she had not read it, but said the president “will be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.