Ukrainian officials say Trump would only talk to Zelensky ‘if they would discuss the Biden case’ in their July phone call

  • Ukrainian officials understood that President Donald Trump would only speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July phone call if Zelensky agreed to discuss investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, ABC News reported.
  • “It was clear that Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case,” Serhiy Leshchenko, an anticorruption advocate and adviser to Zelensky, told the outlet. “This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.”
  • The White House released notes of the call on Wednesday which confirm that Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden ahead of the 2020 election, as well as help discredit the Russia investigation and the former special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • The phone call is at the heart of an explosive whistleblower complaint against Trump that was turned over to Congress on Wednesday.
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Before President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in July, Ukrainian officials understood that Trump would only come to the table if Zelensky agreed to discuss an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, ABC News reported.

“It was clear that Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case,” Serhiy Leshchenko, an anticorruption advocate and adviser to Zelensky, told the outlet. “This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.”

The White House released notes of the call on Wednesday, which confirm that Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden ahead of the 2020 election, as well as help discredit the Russia investigation and the former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump also told Zelensky to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the US attorney general, William Barr, on the matter.

Read more: Trump is facing impeachment over a whistleblower complaint and a phone call with Ukraine’s president. Here’s what we know.

The phone call is now at the center of an explosive and unprecedented whistleblower complaint a US intelligence official filed against Trump in August.

The acting director of national intelligence (DNI), Joseph Maguire, turned the complaint over to Congress on Wednesday. The move came after a fierce tug-of-war in which Maguire, after consulting with the Justice Department and White House, determined he was not required to hand over the complaint because the person it related to – Trump – was not within the DNI’s jurisdiction.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Maguire was unhappy with White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other officials over the decision, and that he threatened to resign if the White House tried to block him from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Earlier Tuesday, it also surfaced that Maguire and the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, referred the complaint to the Justice Department for criminal investigation because Atkinson believed Trump may have violated campaign finance laws during his phone call with Zelensky.

But the Justice Department’s criminal division reviewed the whistleblower’s complaint and determined that there were no grounds for an investigation of Trump’s behavior, The New York Times reported. Officials are said to have decided that the memo of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky didn’t show him violating campaign finance laws by asking for a financial contribution or an “item of tangible value.”

Read more: Trump aides were so afraid he’d pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden that they tried to derail his call with the Ukrainian president

Trump had ordered his administration to withhold a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before the phone call, The Washington Post reported.

While notes of the call show the US president made no direct mention of offering aid in exchange for Zelensky’s assistance in probing Biden, they confirm he brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” right before asking Zelensky to do him a “favor” and help out with investigating Biden and undermining the Russia probe.

While Trump’s allies and congressional Republicans say there was no explicit quid pro quo mentioned during the call, House Democrats say Trump’s actions alone – asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent ahead of a US election – amount to impeachable conduct.

Along that vein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump on Tuesday. NBC News reported that following the announcement, Trump reached out to Pelosi and tried to negotiate with her on releasing the whistleblower complaint. But Pelosi is said to have shot him down, telling him, “Tell your people to obey the law.”

Shortly after, the White House agreed to release the complaint to Congress. It is currently being reviewed by the congressional intelligence committees. After it goes through a declassification review, copies of the complaint will be more widely distributed among other lawmakers on Thursday.