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President Trump defended his July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine as appropriate, but confirmed that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. came up during the discussion.Pete Marovich for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump acknowledged on Sunday that he discussed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with Ukraine’s president as Democrats ramped up calls for an investigation into whether he improperly pressured a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent.
While Mr. Trump defended his July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine as perfectly appropriate, he confirmed that Mr. Biden came up during the discussion and that he accused the former vice president of corruption tied to his son Hunter’s business activities in that former Soviet republic.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and 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,” Mr. Trump told reporters before leaving for a trip to Texas and Ohio.
Mr. Trump did not directly confirmnews reportsthat he pressured Mr. Zelensky for an investigation. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Mr. Trump urged Mr. Zelenskyabout eight timesduring the July 25 phone call to work with the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, on an investigation of Mr. Biden and his son.
Mr. Giuliani has already publicly acknowledged pressing Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens, and Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday and again over the weekend that the former vice president should be investigated without saying whether it came up during the phone call.
The president’s interest over the summer in a Ukrainian investigation into Mr. Biden, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and the right to run against Mr. Trump in next year’s election, coincided with his administration’s decision to hold up $250 million in security aid to Ukraine. But there have been no indications that Mr. Trump mentioned the money during the call.The president finally agreed to release the moneythis month after coming under bipartisan pressure from Congress.
Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine are at least part of a whistle-blower’s complaint that has generated intense interest on Capitol Hill. The administration has refused to release the complaint to Congress. Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he would “love” to release a transcript of the call “but you have to be a little bit shy about doing it.”
The revelations increased pressure on Democrats to impeach Mr. Trump after months of stutter-start investigation into other matters and after resistance by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pursue such an effort, withpolls showing only limited public appetitefor Congress removing the president from office.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and Mr. Trump spoke in July shortly after the Ukrainian was elected as a reformer and inaugurated.Wojciech Olkusnik/EPA, via Shutterstock
“This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office, certainly during this presidency, which says a lot,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “There is no privilege that covers corruption.”
Mr. Schiff, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said impeachment “may be the only remedy” if Mr. Trump did in fact withhold aid to Ukraine in the hopes that the country would pursue an investigation into the Biden family. “The president is pushing us down this road,” he said. “We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”
Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said Congress had to take action. “If we do have the evidence from this whistle-blower that the president indeed did try to bully a foreign power into affecting our elections, then we have to do something about it,” he said on “Meet the Press” on NBC as he called for release of the whistle-blower’s complaint.
Mr. Murphy, who recently visited Ukraine, said Mr. Zelensky expressed consternation to him that the security aid was held up. The senator said administration officials gave him two explanations for holding up the money — that Mr. Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that he thought Europe should be the one to assist Kiev rather than the United States.
But Mr. Murphy cast doubt on those explanations and said the situation was clearly suspicious. “Obviously, the timing of this looks really terrible,” he said.
While most Republicans remained silent, one prominent senator added his voice to the chorus of concern. “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,”Senator Mitt Romney of Utah wrote on Twitteron Sunday. “Critical for the facts to come out.”
In Kiev, Mr. Zelensky has not commented on the matter since the issue erupted in news reports in recent days, but Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, was quoted telling a Ukrainian news outlet on Saturday that the country’s leaders did not take Mr. Trump’s phone call as pressure.
“I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure,”Mr. Prystaiko said. “This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on many questions, sometimes requiring serious answers.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday denied any link between the security aid and Mr. Trump’s interest in an investigation into his potential rival. “Well, that I can tell you, that there was no connection,” Mr. Mnuchin said on “Meet the Press.” “I have been involved with Secretary Pompeo and others on the national security team on the issue.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing on several Sunday shows, did not answer in specifics when asked if there was a “quid pro quo” agreement between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian officials. He insisted more generally that any discussions of aid delivered to Ukraine were “100 percent appropriate” and “100 percent lawful.”
On the other hand, Mr. Pompeo did not hesitate to advance allegations that Mr. Biden should be investigated for wrongdoing.
“If there was election interference that took place by the vice president, I think the American people deserve to know,” he said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. If “Vice President Biden behaved in a way that was inconsistent with the way leaders ought to operate, I think the American people deserve to know that.”
While vice president,Mr. Biden threatened in 2016 to withhold $1 billionin American loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, who was widely seen as failing to fight corruption. Ukraine’s Parliament complied and the prosecutor was forced out.
That was the policy of the Obama administration at the time, a consensus policy to try to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine as it fended off military intervention from Russia. But Mr. Biden’s son Hunter served on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had come under scrutiny by the fired prosecutor.
“Donald Trump tried to bully a foreign leader into creating a false smear campaign against me and my family,” Mr. Biden said in a fund-raising solicitation on Sunday. “He is intentionally misleading the American people in order to win four more years.”
Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Zelensky in July shortly after the Ukrainian was elected as a reformer and inaugurated in May. The White House readout of the call that day said only that Mr. Trump congratulated him on his election and that the two “discussed ways to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, including energy and economic cooperation.”
The Ukrainian readout of the call at the time, however, hinted at other topics, saying that Mr. Trump had expressed his faith in the new Ukrainian government to “complete investigations into corruption cases that have hampered Ukraine-U. S. cooperation.”
In his comments to reporters on Sunday, Mr. Trump said there was nothing wrong with the call. “The conversation, by the way, was absolutely perfect,” he said. “It was a beautiful, warm, nice conversation.”
Making an unscheduled appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Giuliani tried to focus attention on Mr. Biden’s actions rather than his own or the president’s.
In an 11-minute, often rambling interview, Mr. Giuliani delivered accusation after accusation against Hunter Biden, painting the former vice president’s son as a grifter and career criminal. “And the kid, unfortunately, is a drug addict,” Mr. Giuliani said.
He called out various Ukrainian officials and the Democratic donor George Soros by name as being involved in a vast criminal conspiracy, connecting the dots on “Ukrainian collusion” that was aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election.
“When the rest of this comes out,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to additional allegations about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, “this will be a lot bigger than Spiro Agnew.”
Mr. Trump, too, mentioned China and attacked Hunter Biden, saying he was unqualified to be making the money he did with his overseas ventures. “The son, he knew nothing, the son is a stiff, he knew nothing,” the president said.
Other than Mr. Romney, most Republican lawmakers remained silent over the weekend. “I can’t imagine why people have lost their minds so much over these, these daily reports of one thing or another,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said when reporters encountered him in Houston while waiting for Mr. Trump to arrive for a visit. “They seem to consume everybody’s attention in the news coverage.”
Mr. Cornyn demurred when asked whether a president should pressure a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. “I’m not going to speculate,” he said. “I think the president ought to be able to talk to world leaders and have a conversation without necessarily being public because that you need to have those discussions.”
Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said more needed to be known to draw a conclusion. “Look, it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country. That’s not appropriate,” he said on NBC. “But I don’t know that that’s what happened here.”
Emily Cochrane and Chris Cameron contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael D. Shear from Houston.