National Security

Schiff: Trump’s Ukraine call ‘a classic mafia-like shakedown’

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) compared President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president to a “classic mafia like shakedown” on Wednesday, after a partial transcript released by the White House showed the president asked the foreign leader to investigate one of his political rivals.

Schiff said while Trump did not explicitly state that he will withhold financial aid from Ukraine unless it investigated former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, he approached it like a mob boss would by making his request right after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned that his country needed such resources in order to combat Russian aggression.

“It is shocking at another level that the White House would release these notes and felt that this somehow this would help the president’s case or cause, because what those notes reflect is a classic mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader,” Schiff said during a press conference.{mosads}

“There was only one message that that president of Ukraine got from that call and that was: ‘This is what I need, I know what you need.’ Like any mafia boss, the president didn’t need to say, ‘That’s a nice country you have — it would be a shame if something happened to it,'” he continued.

Schiff’s remarks come roughly two hours after the White House released a five-page partial transcript of the president’s July 25 call with Zelensky, in which Trump asks him to get in touch with Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about the matter. 

House Democrats, including Schiff, seized on the White House memo, and say they now understand why the White House and Justice Department did not want to release details from the phone conversation: It is worse than they thought.

According to the release, which is based on notes from national security staffers and not a verbatim transcript, Trump told Zelensky: “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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

While Trump admitted that he had brought up a request for Zelensky to investigate allegations of corruption, he has denied that he withheld the aid in order to pressure Ukraine’s government to conduct an investigation. The president has said he was withholding the federal funds in order to compel other European countries to contribute more to the cause, a matter which was raised in the Trump-Zelensky phone call.

“All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn’t do anything. A lot of the European countries are the the same way so I think it’s something you want to look at but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine,” Trump said.

Republicans pushed back against Democrats’ claims, saying the transcript makes clear there was no quid pro quo.

“Schiff just apparently referred to this as a shakedown,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence panel. “All I hear is admiration, not intimidation.”

“From beginning to end, does President Zelensky sound like he is being shaken down? He was flattering at the beginning and he is flattering at the end,” added the GOP lawmaker, whom Trump previously considered for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) post.

Revelations about the president’s Biden requests have triggered a wave of new Democrats to come out in support of impeachment. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that Democrats are in a full impeachment inquiry.

Democrats are also seeking to obtain a whistleblower complaint that is said to be about a series of conversations Trump had with Ukraine’s leader, not just the one phone call.

Acting DNI Joseph Maguire has declined to provide the whistleblower allegations to Congress, stating that the complaint falls outside the intelligence community (IC) whistleblower statute. Democrats, however, say Maguire is violating the law, which requires the director to provide the complaint to Congress  seven days after the IC inspector general determines the complaint is both urgent and credible.

The White House is reportedly working on releasing a redacted version of the complaint to Congress. Maguire is set to testify on Thursday in what is shaping up to be a high-stakes hearing. 

Still, the president could seek to exert executive privilege over his testimony, something multiple Democrats who have not yet come out in support of impeachment have warned would be a red-line for them.

—Updated at 3:24 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Impeachment Joe Biden John Ratcliffe Nancy Pelosi Rudy Giuliani Trump impeachment Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky William Barr

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