Some Republicans Chide Trump on Ukraine Call But Stick With Him

(Bloomberg) -- Some Senate Republicans showed discomfort with Donald Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, calling it inappropriate but not worthy of his removal from office.

The White House’s rough transcript of the July 25 call showed that Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the current front-runner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. But Trump didn’t explicitly connect that request to the Ukrainian aid money he blocked a few days earlier.

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who leads the Senate Ukraine caucus, said it would have been better if Trump hadn’t mentioned Biden’s name, but “the rush to judgment by the other body is totally unwarranted.”

Portman said he met with Trump the day before the aid was approved, and said Trump explained that the holdup was leverage to get the Europeans to do more on Ukraine. Portman said he doesn’t know if Trump also wanted to use the aid as leverage to get the Ukraine government to investigate Biden, but he said that’s not in the transcript.

Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, left room for some disapproval but ultimately gave Trump a pass because the White House memo “reveals no quid pro quo.”

“While the conversation reported in the memorandum relating to alleged Ukrainian corruption and Vice President Biden’s son was inappropriate, it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense,” Toomey said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday said the timeline of events -- suspending U.S. aid for Ukraine days before Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy -- represents a “self-evident” offense by pressuring a foreign power to investigate a Trump political rival.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said the transcript reads like a “classic, mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader.” He also questioned the thoroughness of the transcript, which the administration labeled as a “memorandum.”

Other Republicans were cautious in their initial reactions to the phone call memo.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney said he remains “deeply troubled” after reading the rough transcript, but he declined to say whether Trump’s actions represent an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said after reading the White House memo that she wants to know more. Maine Senator Susan Collins said the transcript raises more questions.

Other GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they saw nothing wrong with Trump’s secret request to Zelenskiy to investigate Biden at the same time aid to Ukraine was being delayed.

”I don’t see anything there,” said Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, who faces voters next year. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who faces a GOP primary, said Democratic calls to impeach Trump were “a total farce.”

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution demanding that the whistle-blower complaint that sparked congressional investigations should be handed over to Congress. The complaint was hand-delivered to Congress on Wednesday afternoon, said Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

Obtaining the whistle-blower complaint may deflate one of the reasons Democrats cited for impeachment: that the acting director of national intelligence wasn’t complying with the law that requires such reports to be turned over to Congress. Lawmakers also are seeking to interview the whistle-blower in private.

Talking Points

If congressional reaction to Wednesday’s memo is any indication, the response to the whistle-blower’s report will fall largely along partisan lines, with the exception of the Senate Republicans who allow themselves some measure of concern.

House Republicans, on the other hand, largely praised Trump’s transparency, criticized Pelosi’s pledge to begin an impeachment inquiry and demanded that the real investigation should be of Biden’s son and his position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Those talking points were largely directed by the White House, and they were accidentally emailed to the offices of some House Democrats. A White House official later tried to recall the message, according to copies of the emails obtained by Bloomberg.

Michigan Representative Justin Amash, a former Republican who decided months ago he would no longer remain in the party of Trump, said the memo of the president’s call is “highly incriminating.” Amash is now the House of Representatives’ only declared independent.

“Yesterday, I had expected the WH to release an unremarkable transcript to distract from the main issues: the whistleblower complaint and other abuses,” Amash tweeted Wednesday. “Today, it released a highly incriminating transcript, and it seems POTUS doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong.”

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