Furor grows after White House releases readout of Trump call

A readout of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE’s July 25 call to Ukraine’s president released by the White House on Wednesday offered new fuel for Democrats who had launched a formal impeachment inquiry just a day earlier.

The five-page document showed that Trump encouraged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with his personal attorney and the attorney general to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump knocks Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' in new video Giuliani asked State Dept. to grant visa for ex-Ukraine official at center of Biden allegations: report Perry won't comply with subpoena in impeachment inquiry MORE.

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“There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great," Trump told Zelensky in the call, according to the memo.

“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said.

While Republicans sought to brush off the document as nothing new, Democrats pounced, seizing on it to argue that it bolstered the case for impeachment. They are concerned that Trump pressured a foreign government to look into a political opponent, and that he may have used U.S. military aid as leverage.

“The transcript is an unambiguous, damning, and shocking abuse of the Office of the Presidency for personal political gain,” four Democratic committee chairmen said in a joint statement. 

Trump, in advance of the memo’s release, had argued it would show that there was nothing improper in his call, but Democrats saw it as offering support for their position and some Republicans signaled unease.

“Clearly what we've seen from the transcript itself is deeply troubling,” Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump knocks Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' in new video Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump Fighting continues in Syrian town despite cease-fire deal MORE (R-Utah), the GOP presidential candidate in 2012, told reporters earlier in the day.

One GOP senator told The Washington Post that it was a “huge mistake” for the White House to release the document.

The memo drove the day’s news cycle, and Trump was repeatedly confronted with questions over the issue as he concluded his three-day stint at the United Nations General Assembly.

At a press conference, a subdued Trump accused Democrats of a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” while inviting questions on other topics.

“It’s very sad what the Democrats are doing to this country,” he said. “They’re dividing. They’re belittling, they’re demeaning our country.”

Trump and Zelensky met Wednesday afternoon in a highly anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the U.N., where the Ukrainian leader said he did not feel pressure from Trump to investigate Biden and said he didn’t want to get involved in “elections of USA.”

“And there was no pressure,” Trump chimed in.

Zelensky added that he had not been in touch with the country’s prosecutor general, and that he would not push him to carry out any specific investigation.

The partial transcript showed that Trump asked Zelensky to “look into” Biden’s role in the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor and Trump said he would put him in touch with Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani asked State Dept. to grant visa for ex-Ukraine official at center of Biden allegations: report Overnight Energy: Trump taps deputy energy secretary to replace Perry | Praises pick Dan Brouillette as 'total professional' | Perry denies quid pro quo over Ukraine Ex-Watergate prosecutor says evidence in impeachment inquiry 'clearly' points to Trump MORE, his personal attorney, and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrMulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump Matthew Shepard's parents blast Barr's LGBTQ record in anniversary of hate crime law MORE.

The Justice Department immediately tried to minimize Barr’s involvement, saying that Trump never asked Barr to contact Ukraine or encourage Ukraine to investigate matters related to Biden or his son, Hunter, and that the attorney general wasn’t aware of the conversation until “several weeks” after it took place.

“The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine — on this or any other subject.  Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani,” Justice Department spokesman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

According to the transcript, Trump told Zelensky: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I'm sure you will figure it out.”

While Trump highlighted during the call how the U.S. provides aid to Ukraine and expressed frustration that France and Germany don’t contribute more, the transcript does not contain any explicit quid pro quo in which Trump directly ties aid for Ukraine to opening an investigation into the Bidens.

However, the document does show the Ukrainian leader thanking the U.S. for help on defense, with Trump subsequently requesting "a favor" before asking him to look into a company with ties to the Russia investigation and later mentioning Biden.

Most of Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill dismissed the transcript.

“There was no quid pro quo and nothing to justify the clamor House Democrats caused yesterday. The real danger here is that Democrats keep using baseless accusations in hopes of crippling a successful presidency,” said Rep. Dough Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

The battle will enter a new chapter Thursday as the House and Senate Intelligence committees hold separate hearings on a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s leaders.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who is set to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in an open session, threatened to resign if the White House did not allow him to testify to Congress.

Maguire and the White House denied the report, and Trump publicly derided it as a “fake article” in his press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Maguire’s testimony and any information provided by the whistleblower is likely to form the basis of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry moving forward. The Post reported that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCummings to lie in state at the Capitol House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union —Dem wants more changes to Pelosi drug pricing bill | Ebola outbreak wanes, but funding lags | Johnson & Johnson recalls batch of baby powder after asbestos traces found MORE (D-Calif.) is seeking to focus the inquiry on Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, lawmakers began viewing a redacted version of the whistleblower complaint related to the call on Wednesday afternoon in secure spaces in the U.S. Capitol. Democrats reviewing the material said it underlined their concerns.

“All I’ll tell you is this. Two things: Number one, having read the documents in there, I’m even more worried about what happened than when I read the memorandum of the conversation. There are so many facts that have to be examined. It’s very troubling.”

The Justice Department also said Wednesday that it received a referral related to the whistleblower complaint that cited Trump’s call with Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law. The Justice Department reviewed the record of the call but declined to further investigate after determining there was no such violation, Kupec, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said.

Trump and his allies have latched onto Biden’s connection to Ukraine as the former vice president seeks the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in 2020.

Biden’s son served on the board of a natural gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch while Biden was vice president. Biden pushed in 2016 for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who had the gas company in his sights but had been widely accused of overlooking corruption in his own office. Biden, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration at the time, threatened to withhold money for Ukraine if the prosecutor was not ousted.

There’s no indication Biden was acting with his son’s interests in mind and the former vice president has denied doing so.

Some Republicans floated a formal inquiry into Biden’s activities amid Wednesday’s chaos, further cementing the partisan divide that will likely define Washington for the months ahead.