WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US President Donald Trump pressed Ukraine’s leader to investigate Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden, in coordination with the US attorney general and Trump’s personal lawyer, according to a summary of a telephone call released by the Trump administration.
The official account of the half-hour July call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy laid bare an astonishing exchange of requests, pledges and ingratiation, including some unrelated to Biden.
The summary was released a day after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democratic-led chamber was launching an official impeachment inquiry, setting up a political showdown that threatens Trump’s presidency as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.
A Pelosi aide said that in two meetings with Democratic leaders on Wednesday, the speaker suggested the possibility of making the inquiry narrowly focussed on Trump and his dealings with Ukraine, after months of House committee hearings on a range of other activities by the president. No final decisions were made, the aide said.
The Washington Post first reported that possible strategy earlier on Wednesday.
The inquiry could lead to articles of impeachment in the House that could trigger a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.
The details of the July 25 call drew furious reactions from Democrats, who accused Trump of soliciting Ukraine’s help to smear Biden, who has led in polls among Democratic candidates seeking to challenge the Republican president in the November 2020 election.
The call occurred after Trump had ordered a freeze of nearly $400 million (£323.2 million) in American aid to Ukraine, which the administration only later released.
“What those notes reflect is a classic Mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader,” said Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
ABC News reported that an adviser to Zelenskiy, Serhiy Leshchenko, contended that any telephone conversation between Trump and the newly elected leader of Ukraine came with a US precondition that the Biden case would be discussed.
Republicans said the summary of the call showed Democrats were wrong to move forward with impeachment. “There was no quid pro quo and nothing to justify the clamour House Democrats caused,” said U.S. Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Trump and Zelenskiy appeared side by side in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and denied impropriety in their call, with Ukraine’s president telling reporters: “Nobody pushed me.”
At a news conference closing out three days of meetings in New York around the General Assembly, Trump accused Democrats of launching the impeachment inquiry “because they can’t beat us at the ballot.”
In a statement, Biden said Trump put personal politics above his oath of office and that Congress must hold him to account for “his abuse of power.”
The controversy arose after a whistleblower from within the U.S. intelligence community brought a complaint relating to Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy.
Members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees were allowed to see the complaint on Wednesday, the day before acting U.S. director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, testifies at a House intelligence panel hearing.
Late on Wednesday, Representative Chris Stewart, a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a Twitter posting that the complaint had been declassified. “I encourage you all to read it,” he tweeted. But it was not yet clear when it would be released to the public.
Democratic lawmakers said the allegations were credible and deeply disturbing, while Republicans largely downplayed the complaint.