- President Donald Trump told Vice President Mike Pence to convey to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the US would withhold military aid to Ukraine while demanding they aggressively investigate corruption, the Washington Post reported.
- The Ukrainians likely understood that Trump’s demand to investigate “corruption” was linked to his desire for them to look into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
- The revelation is the latest indication that the US president may have dangled taxpayer dollars in order to get a foreign government to investigate a political rival for personal gain. It also ropes the vice president further into the brewing controversy.
- Trump’s direction to Pence came shortly after he spoke to Zelensky in a July 25 phone call in which he repeatedly pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens for corruption and help discredit the Russia investigation.
- Pence met with Zelensky during a diplomatic trip on September 1. Afterward, Pence told a reporter the US has “great concerns” about corruption, and that the president wanted to be sure US military aid to Ukraine was going toward “the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine.”
- Katie Waldman, press secretary for the vice president, released a statement in response to The Post’s reporting.
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President Donald Trump used Vice President Mike Pence to convey to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the US would withhold military aid to the country while demanding that they aggressively investigate corruption, the Washington Post reported.
The Ukrainians likely understood that Trump’s demand to investigate “corruption” was connected to his desire for them to look into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son ahead of the 2020 election, The Post said.
The revelation is the latest indication that the US president may have dangled taxpayer dollars in order to get a foreign government to investigate a rival for political gain.
Trump’s direction to Pence came shortly after he spoke to Zelensky in a July 25 phone call that’s now the subject of an explosive whistleblower complaint a US intelligence official filed against the president in August.
The complaint alleged Trump used the power of his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 US election. His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is described as a “central figure in this effort,” and it said Attorney General William Barr “appears to be involved as well.”
Trump had ordered his administration to withhold the nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before the phone call with Zelensky.
While the White House’s notes on the call showed that Trump did not directly mention offering aid in exchange for Zelensky’s assistance in investigating Biden, they confirmed that Trump brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” right before asking Zelensky to do him a “favor” by investigating Biden and discrediting the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Pence, meanwhile, addressed the issue of corruption in Ukraine during a diplomatic trip to Poland earlier this month. The trip occurred before the public learned of the whistleblower’s complaint and after it was reported that the US was withholding aid from Ukraine. Pence held a news conference during the trip, which took place one day after he met with Zelensky.
“Did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian president?” a reporter asked Pence. “And number two, can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?”
Pence replied, “Well, on the first question, the answer is no. But we … discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.”
Pence added that Trump had asked him to meet with Zelensky and convey that the US has “great concerns about issues of corruption.”
Zelensky, he said, in turn assured him that his government has taken steps to address “the issue of public corruption.”
Pence continued: “I mean, to invest additional taxpayer money in Ukraine, the president wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine, and that’s an expectation the American people have and the president has expressed very clearly.”
It’s unclear what Pence knew about the July 25 call or the whistleblower complaint ahead of the meeting.
Officials close to the vice president told The Post he had no knowledge of Trump’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son over their dealings in Ukraine.
Following the release of The Post’s report, Katie Waldman, press secretary for the vice president, released the following statement:
—Tom LoBianco (@tomlobianco) October 2, 2019
Other officials, however, told The Post that one of Pence’s top deputies was a participant in Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky and that the vice president should have had access to a transcript of the conversation. The whistleblower’s complaint detailed how senior White House officials took steps to “lock down” records of the call immediately after over concerns that it could prove damaging to the president.
To that effect, they took the unusual step of moving the official transcript of the call from the computer system such documents are typically stored in to a top-secret codeword-level system in the National Security Council that houses information pertaining to US national security.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Pence advised Trump against releasing the summary of his call with Zelensky last week. The vice president is said to have raised concerns about the precedent that releasing the summary could set but eventually sided with other White House officials calling for Trump to release it.