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NPRWednesday, September 25, 2019
President Trump arrives at a press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday in New York City.
Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET
President Trump said Wednesday that the push for his impeachment is a "hoax," again denying any wrongdoing during a July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during which he pushed for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival.
"No push, no pressure, no nothing — it's all a hoax, folks. It's all a big hoax," Trump said.
Trump's remarks capped a whirlwind day of revelations, allegations and counterclaims that have rocked Washington and are likely to play a pivotal role in the runup to the 2020 presidential election. An account of his scrutinized July call with the Ukrainian president was released Wednesday morning, and Trump's Republican allies contend that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made a fatal error by pursuing an impeachment inquiry into the president over the allegations. The Democrats, meanwhile, say they believe the account of the call provides sufficient evidence of Trump's alleged wrongdoing.
At a news conference in New York, Trump also said that he has spoken with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republicans and that he "fully supports transparency" on the whistleblower information.
He took few questions about the Ukraine call, instead opining mostly about the economy, trade, meetings with world leaders and other matters.
Congressional members review whistleblower account
On Wednesday afternoon, congressional leaders and members of the House and Senate intelligence committees were allowed to view the still-classified whistleblower account.
House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he found the allegations set forth "deeply disturbing," "very credible," "well-written" and a road map for follow-up from "other witnesses."
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said the report was "serious, urgent and credible and we should hear from the whistleblower" via testimony.
He also told NPR's All Things Considered that he did not see the full report and that the committee will ask acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for more materials in a meeting Thursday.
"It's really unfortunate that for the first time in the history of the whistleblower law for the intelligence community that we are being blocked from hearing from the whistleblower or having the full report," Swalwell said.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said he plans to push Maguire for answers on what the motivations were behind not turning the whistleblower report over to Congress.
"It's very well done. It's thorough," Krishnamoorthi said. "It raises a lot of questions about what else is out there."
Republicans were largely silent on Wednesday evening, but Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told CNN's Jeff Zeleny that there were "real troubling things" in the complaint.
"Republicans ought not just circle the wagons and Democrats ought not be using words like 'impeach' before they knew anything about the actual substance," Sasse — who once frequently criticized Trump but has since garnered his endorsement — said.
Rough transcript contradicts Trump denials
Trump has been defending the call, saying the record proves he did not pressure the Ukrainian leader. But that isn't quelling the movement toward impeachment in Congress — in fact, top House Democrats say it confirms the need for an inquiry.
The president said he decided to release the call recap, saying, "I was just getting such fake news, I just thought it would be better."
Trump also said he would be willing to release a prior call with Zelenskiy, along with conversations that Vice President Pence had with the foreign leader.
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump appeared alongside Zelenskiy from New York, where both denied that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden's son Hunter.
Trump emphasized that there was "no pressure" and repeated stories that he and his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have told that insinuate the younger Biden took part in corrupt activities in China and Ukraine. As explained here, Trump and Giuliani have not provided any evidence of wrongdoing.
When asked whether he had been pushed to investigate Hunter Biden, Zelenskiy said, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to be involved in democratic, open elections in USA." He described the phone call as "good" and "normal." "We spoke about many things," Zelenskiy said, adding later, "Nobody pushed me."
But the rough transcript contradicts those denials. Trump notes at the outset that "we do a lot for Ukraine." He asks Zelenskiy about a "favor," later going on to tell him "I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation in Ukraine" and the Bidens.
Democrats move forward on impeachment inquiry
Earlier Wednesday, Pelosi said in a statement that "the transcript and the Justice Department's acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President's lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry."
Pelosi added, "I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign."
Schiff called the president's conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart "a classic mafialike shakedown of a foreign leader."
"The notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damning than I or many others had imagined," he said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Trump pushed back during his news conference, calling it a "perfect" and "beautiful" call. He argued that Pelosi was allowing more liberal members of her caucus to push her toward impeachment proceedings.
"When Nancy Pelosi allows her position to be taken over by radical far-left socialists, or worse, that's pretty bad," the president said.
Trump also said he had thought that impeachment talk was dead after former special counsel Robert Mueller released his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"What these Democrats have done to ruin lives is so sad," Trump said.
Schiff said he didn't want to "get ahead of ourselves" when asked whether the House would definitely vote on articles of impeachment. "It will be a decision for us once we conclude our investigative work whether to bring this or other matters in the form of articles to a vote," he said. "And we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"But no one should have any illusions," he continued, "about the seriousness of what is already uncontested — and that is the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office and sacrificed our national security in doing so."
In a joint statement, Schiff and other House committee chairmen including Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said, "No quid pro quo is required to betray our country. Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in our elections — that is betrayal enough. The corruption exists whether or not Trump threatened — explicitly or implicitly — that a lack of cooperation could result in withholding military aid."
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a frequent GOP critic of the president, called the memo "deeply troubling." Speaking at a conference in Washington, Romney said: "If the president of the United States asks or presses the leader of a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that's troubling."
Republicans defend Trump
Other Republicans, however, rallied to the president's defense. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a fervent support of Trump's, said the memo of the call showed that Pelosi "has been functionally 'catfished' into a politically fatal impeachment proceeding based on rumors, based on faulty evidence, and based on a bloodlust for the President politically that does not serve our nation well."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the rough transcript of the call "underwhelming." Graham said "Impeachment over this? What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger. Democrats have lost their minds when it comes to President Trump."
A dozen GOP members of the House and Senate were given an advance view of the memo at a White House meeting attended by White House counsel Pat Cipollone. One of those present, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, "We certainly saw no quid pro quo," and, also employing the culinary metaphor, "It's turning into a real nothingburger."
The document released by the White House is labeled a "memorandum" that "is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room duty officers and [National Security Council] policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place."
Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, without having access to the transcript. But she said earlier in the day that evidence of a quid pro quo was not a "requirement."
Pelosi called Trump's actions a "betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."
"The president must be held accountable," Pelosi said. "No one is above the law."
She had previously resisted pressure from more liberal members of her caucus who have been pushing for impeachment.
Impeachment — the formal charging of wrongdoing against a president — could likely pass in a Democratic-controlled House. Just two presidents have been impeached in history: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. President Richard Nixon was staring down an impeachment vote amid the Watergate scandal but resigned before formal impeachment articles were brought forward.
However, no president has ever been convicted in the Senate and subsequently removed from office. And such a feat would be tough in the GOP-controlled Senate, where 67 votes would be required.
Brett Neely and Susan Davis contributed to this report.
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