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Trump questions patriotism of whistleblower central to Ukraine firestorm

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/23/2019 John Wagner
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President Trump on Monday questioned the patriotism of the whistleblower who has sparked intense scrutiny of a July phone call in which Trump is said to have pressed the leader of Ukraine about investigating former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

“Also, who is this so-called ‘whistleblower’ who doesn’t know the correct facts,” Trump said in a tweet as he attended a United Nations gathering in New York. “Is he on our Country’s side. Where does he come from.”

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Trump’s tweet came a day after he appeared to confirm that he mentioned Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son, Hunter Biden, in the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call is part of the whistleblower’s complaint, according to people familiar with the matter.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the United Nations, Trump also appeared to acknowledge that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was part of the conversation.

“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump said in response to a question from a reporter about the contents of the call. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country you think is corrupt? One of the reasons the new president got elected is he was going to stop corruption, so it’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.”

Trump has repeatedly raised the specter of impropriety on the part of Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that Trump pushed Zelensky to investigate, according to people familiar with the matter.

Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has been unwilling to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress, a refusal that has rankled Democrats and heightened calls to impeach Trump. The whistleblower, whose identity has not been publicly disclosed, is said to be a U.S. intelligence official.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Trump said that he is not worried about impeachment and that “the one who’s got the problem is Biden.”

“What Biden did is a disgrace,” Trump said.

Trump has repeatedly asserted that he said nothing wrong during the call, on Sunday characterizing it as “perfect.”

Democrats say asking Ukraine to find damaging information on a potential 2020 rival could amount to another attempt to involve a foreign power in U.S. elections. Intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump, a claim the president denies.

Since the spring, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, has pushed the Ukrainians to investigate a gas tycoon who had Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma Holdings starting in 2014.

According to the New York Times, he was paid as much as $50,000 some months for his work.

In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine to push for the firing of its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. On that trip, Biden said the United States would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees unless Shokin was removed.

Biden’s push was part of a broader international effort to fight corruption in Ukraine, and Shokin had been accused of ignoring major misconduct. Shokin, at one point, led an investigation into Burisma Holdings. However, the case had been dormant before the prosecutor’s firing, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials, and the U.S. ambassador at the time publicly called for the investigation in Burisma to proceed.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who met with Zelensky in Ukraine in early September, said Monday that the Ukrainian president directly expressed his concern that military aid was being cut off to his country by Trump as “a consequence” of his unwillingness to launch an investigation into the Bidens.

Speaking at a news conference, Murphy said Zelensky was resisting the investigation because “they thought there was no merit to it” and that Zelensky asked him “to intervene to unlock the aid.”

Murphy called Trump’s efforts “a fundamentally corrupt act” but cautioned on focusing on whether there was “an explicit quid pro quo.”

“I don’t think it really matters whether there was a quid pro quo. . . . whether the president explicitly told the Ukrainians that they wouldn’t get their security aid if they didn’t interfere in the 2020 elections,” Murphy said. “There is an implicit threat in every demand that a United States president makes of a foreign power.”

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) demanding several steps related to Trump’s call with Zelensky, including a release of the transcript.

Schumer also asked for Senate hearings on the matter and the issuance of a subpoena to compel the delivery of the whistleblower complaint to Congress.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday that the actions by Biden merit more scrutiny but also urged Trump to release more details about his call with Zelensky.

“I would urge him to continue to be as transparent as possible and tell us as much as he can without compromising executive privilege, so that we can understand what happened,” Graham told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, adding: “I believe that President Trump is going to blow you away with his willingness to disclose and be transparent about this phone call, because I think he did nothing wrong, and he has nothing to hide.”

Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was noncommittal when asked whether Trump plans to release a transcript of his call with Zelensky.

“When foreign leaders come together to speak, they need to be able to speak candidly, so I do think that perhaps releasing this kind of transcript could set a bad precedent,” Grisham said on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” “He’s willing to do it, I think, but there’s a lot of other people, lawyers and such, that may have a problem with it, so we’ll see what happens.”

Trump told reporters on Sunday that he would “love to” release the transcript but that others in his administration are “a little shy” about it.

In an exchange with reporters outside the White House on Sunday before departing for events in Texas and Ohio, Trump appeared to suggest that he did speak about Biden with Zelensky.

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said. “And Ukraine, Ukraine’s got a lot of problems.”

Later, in Houston, Trump appeared to backtrack, saying, “I don’t even want to mention it, but certainly I’d have the right to” raise Biden’s name with Zelensky.

John.Wagner@washpost.com

Karoun Demirjian, Paul Kane, Seung Min Kim and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

a man wearing a suit and tie: President Trump briefly attends the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday in New York. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images President Trump briefly attends the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday in New York.
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