President Trump again addressed the whistleblower controversy on Friday and dismissed it as a "partisan hack job." In comments to reporters and on Twitter, the president repeated a theme: All of his conversations with foreign leaders have been appropriate, and an unidentified whistleblower from the intelligence community who suggested otherwise is doing so for political purposes. Trump also sought to shift the focus of the controversy onto Joe Biden, and a new report suggests Biden is indeed at the heart of the entire story. Details and related coverage:
- About Biden? Trump declined to say whether he had discussed Biden in one of his calls to a fellow leader, as has been reported. "It doesn't matter what I discussed," said Trump, per Politico. He added, however, that "somebody ought to look into" Biden.
- The Ukraine call: Nothing has been confirmed, but reports in the Washington Post and New York Times say the call that triggered the whistleblower's complaint was between Trump and Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky in July. The big question is whether Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden in regard to something Biden ordered as VP in 2016. (Details on that Biden incident are further below.)
- A scoop: The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday afternoon that Trump did indeed press Zelensky "repeatedly" during the phone call to work with Rudy Giuliani on a Biden investigation. The story says Trump raised the issue "about eight times," though one person quoted said Trump didn't put any quid-pro-quo deal on the table.
- Biden-Ukraine connection: In 2016, VP Biden called on Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor for being lax on corruption, and Biden used the threat of withholding US aid as leverage, per the Hill and PolitiFact. Biden's critics say this is fishy because Biden's son Hunter was serving on the board of a Ukraine gas company at the time, and they say the elder Biden sought to remove the prosecutor to shield Hunter Biden from some sort of investigation. Trump himself alluded to this Friday: Biden, he said, "talked about billions of dollars that he's not giving to a certain country unless a certain prosecutor was taken off the case," per NPR.
- An assessment: The nonpartisan PolitiFact, however, says Biden was simply voicing "the position of the wider U.S. government, as well as other international institutions" in calling for the prosecutor to be fired. Further, "we found no evidence to support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son's interests in mind. ... It's not even clear that the company was actively under investigation or that a change in prosecutors benefited it."
- What Rudy says: Trump attorney Giuliani didn't confirm that Trump talked about Biden in the July call, but Giuliani defended such a conversation in principle on CNN Thursday night. “The reality is the president of the United States has every right to say to another leader of a foreign country, ‘You got to straighten up before we give you a lot of money,'" he said, per the Washington Post. “It is perfectly appropriate for [Trump] to ask a foreign government to investigate this massive crime that was made by a former vice president.” (Earlier this year, Giuliani called off a trip to Ukraine in which he intended to encourage the Biden investigation.)
- Lot of unknowns: Democrats in Congress are trying to get a copy of the whistleblower's report to find out exactly what the accusations are, but Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire says he is not obligated to turn it over to lawmakers. Maguire testifies before a House panel next week. The New York Times notes that Trump temporarily held back a military aid package to Ukraine this summer, but it's unclear whether it's related to all this.
- Trump's view: “I had a great conversation with numerous people, numerous leaders, and I always look for the conversation that’s going to help the United States the most,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
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