Giuliani Says He Can’t Guarantee That Trump Didn’t Threaten Ukraine Aid

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani didn’t rule out the possibility that the president threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine over calls for an investigation into largely discredited allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Giuliani first said in response to a question on Fox Business Monday that Trump didn’t threaten Ukraine aid, but then added he “can’t say for 100%.”

Trump appeared to acknowledge on Sunday that he had discussed Biden -- the 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner -- in a July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is the subject of a congressional investigation.

The episode is a preview of the kind of 2020 campaign the country will face if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee.

It’s also an effort by Trump to brush Biden with scandal and damage him as a potential general-election opponent. While Biden’s lead in Democratic primary polls has shrunk, he still leads on the question of which candidate could beat Trump next fall.

Partial Transcript

Trump, speaking to reporters Sunday near Houston, said he’d consider releasing a partial transcript of the call with Zelenskiy, though he added he didn’t like the idea because U.S. presidents and foreign counterparts should be free to have candid confidential conversations.

Asked on Monday at the United Nations General Assembly what he said in the Zelenskiy call, Trump told reporters: “You’re going to see,” according to ABC News. He didn’t elaborate.

“We’re supporting a country, we’re going to make sure that country is honest,” he said. “One of the reasons the new president got elected is he’s going to stop corruption.”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Monday on Fox News that releasing a transcript of Trump’s conversation with a foreign leader could set a bad precedent.

Giuliani said Trump shouldn’t give Congress a transcript, even though the call reportedly factors into a complaint by an intelligence community whistle-blower.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer demanded on Monday that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “take immediate action” to keep Trump from withholding the complaint, which Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to provide to Congress. Democrats say federal law requires Maguire to transmit the complaint to Congress, but Maguire and Attorney General William Barr claim that the complaint doesn’t concern intelligence matters and thus isn’t covered by the law.

The intelligence community’s inspector general has said the complaint is “credible” and a matter of “urgent” concern.

“Yet in the face of this dire warning and the Trump administration’s effort to cover it up, the Republican-led Senate has remained silent and submissive, shying away from this institution’s constitutional obligation to conduct oversight,” Schumer wrote in a letter to McConnell. He also asked the GOP majority to investigate the administration’s handling of security aid to Ukraine.

In a pair of tweets issued just before he was scheduled to address a UN conference on religious persecution, Trump demanded to know the identify of the whistle-blower.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has called for a report stemming from the complaint to be released to his panel and suggested Trump’s actions “may very well have crossed the Rubicon,” warranting a further look at impeachment.

“I wouldn’t give Adam Schiff anything,” Giuliani said Monday, alleging without evidence that Schiff is “fixed” and “completely dishonest.”

Pelosi Response

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also signaled her readiness to take stronger action against Trump. “If the administration persists in blocking this whistle-blower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” Pelosi said Sunday in a letter to colleagues.

The Ukraine controversy involves two parallel, partisan narratives:

For Biden and the Democrats, the story is Trump’s repeated solicitation of foreign help to discredit his rivals -- and his obstruction of any efforts to hold him accountable. The Ukraine story is a red herring, they say, nothing more than a debunked conspiracy theory meant to distract from Trump’s own corruption.

For Trump and the Republicans, Democratic corruption is the story. The intelligence agency whistle-blower who reported Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden must be a deep-state partisan, they say, part of a never-ending effort by Democrats to undermine a duly-elected president.

The Ukrainian intrigue has echoes of 2016, with Trump accused of courting foreign help to discredit his rivals with real or perceived scandals. Then, it was Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails and the Trump campaign’s attempts to solicit Russia’s help in leaking them -- which became the focus of a two-year investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

This time, Trump is accused of pressuring Ukraine into investigating an unsubstantiated assertion that Biden tried to interfere in a Ukrainian corruption investigation involving a company connected to his son, Hunter Biden.

Fired Prosecutor

Former President Barack Obama’s administration, led by Biden -- along with other Western nations -- pressured Ukraine in 2016 to fire then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin on grounds of corruption. The country’s parliament voted to remove Shokin from office.

In May, Ukraine’s new prosecutor-general said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or Hunter Biden, who once sat on the board of one of the country’s biggest gas companies. Vitaliy Kasko, a prosecutor who pursued a case against the gas company’s owner, told Bloomberg in May that there had been no U.S. pressure to close that case.

But the Biden family’s account hasn’t been entirely consistent.

“I have never talked to my son about his overseas business dealings,” Joe Biden said in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday.

Hunter Biden told the New Yorker in July that they did speak about the issue one time. “Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘I do,’” the younger Biden said.

Trump seized on that discrepancy Sunday.

“He made a lie when he said he never spoke to his son,” he told reporters before leaving the White House. “Who wouldn’t speak to your son? Of course you spoke to your son.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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