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Trump denies pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he discussed Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son in a call with Ukraine's president, but denied trying to coerce Ukraine into investigating him.

Wavers on releasing transcript of call with Ukrainian president amid calls for impeachment

U.S. President Donald Trump, responding to media questions on Sunday, says the conversation he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was 'largely congratulatory.' (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday denied trying to coerce Ukraine into investigating his Democratic political rival Joe Biden, but wavered about whether he would release a transcript of a phone call that some Democrats say is grounds for his impeachment.

Trump's statements come after he confirmed on Sunday that he did raise the subject of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the July 25 call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.

That call has been at the centre of an escalating battle in Washington since Friday, when news outlets reported Trump repeatedly asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate whether Biden, the Democratic front-runner to take on Trump in next year's election, misused his position when he was vice-president.

Democrats, and some Republicans, urged the White House to be forthcoming amid the reports of coercion, which would have occurred at the same time the administration was withholding $250 million in aid to the Eastern European nation. 

Trump has denied doing anything improper, stating he didn't want to give money to Ukraine if there were corruption issues. His allies, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have defended the president's phone call, which, according to news reports, was the subject of a complaint made by an as-yet-unnamed whistleblower.

Joe Biden, Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former vice-president, says if the reports are true, 'then there is truly no bottom to President Trump's willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.' (Kathryn Gamble/Reuters)

If an investigation shows that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden, the U.S. Congress may have no choice but to pursue impeachment, Democratic House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff said on Sunday.

"If the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader to do something illicit, to provide dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that conduct represents," Schiff said.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called on Senate Republicans Monday to issue a subpoena for the whistleblower complaint and demand a transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Zelenskiy.

"It is the Senate's duty — duty — to take this national security matter seriously and investigate now. Senate Republicans have the sole power and the overwhelming responsibility to see that it does," Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Schumer said he made his request for a Senate investigation in a letter to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 10, 2019. On Sunday, Schumer stated it is 'the Senate's duty' to investigate the whistleblower complaint. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

More than half the House Democrats have said they support impeachment, and more are expected this week to publicly favour such an investigation, but others worry it is too politically divisive and would only alienate more centrist voters. Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also resisted calls to formally begin the process.

Trump gave a contradictory message about whether he would release a transcript of the call with the Ukrainian leader.

"I may do it because it was a very interesting call," Trump said on Monday. "It was a very nice call. I hope you get to see it and I hope you get to see it soon," he said.

But he added:

"I don't think it's a great precedent to be releasing calls with foreign countries, heads of foreign countries. So I don't think it's a great precedent."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the president's closest allies, urged Trump on Monday to be "as transparent as possible" and predicted the White House transcript would be released.

"I think he did nothing wrong and he has nothing to hide," Graham said on talk show host Hugh Hewitt's radio program.

In a letter to colleagues later on Sunday, Pelosi warned the administration against keeping the details of the whistleblower complaint secret. The administration has so far resisted sharing the details of the complaint with lawmakers.

"If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower 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 wrote.

Trump shrugged off talks of impeachment while speaking with reporters as he arrived at the UN General Assembly.

Asked how seriously he was taking the threats by Congress, Trump said, "Not at all seriously." 

Trump is set to have a closed-door meeting with Pelosi on Tuesday in regards to the complaint.

Romney voices concern

Sen. Mitt Romney, who has clashed with Trump in the past, sounded a rare note of concern among Trump's fellow Republicans, many of whom have remained silent, defended Trump or escalated their attacks on Biden in the days after the reports about the Trump-Zelensky call.

"If the president asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme," Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said in a Twitter post.

Impeachment proceedings in Congress that begin in the House can lead to a president being removed from office, but Democrats would need the support of Republicans, who control the Senate.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, shown speaking at a bilateral meeting in Toronto on July 2, is at the centre of an escalating battle in Washington between Democrats and Trump. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Multiple news organizations reported on Friday that Trump repeatedly asked Zelensky to investigate whether Biden misused his position as vice-president under Democratic President Barack Obama to threaten to withhold U.S. aid unless a prosecutor who was looking into a gas company in which Biden's son was involved was fired.

Biden has confirmed he wanted the prosecutor fired but denies it was to help his son. Biden said the wider U.S. government, the European Union and other international institutions also wanted the prosecutor fired for his alleged failure to pursue major corruption cases.

Biden said on Saturday there should be an investigation into Trump's call, saying it "appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power." He said he never spoke to his son about Ukraine.

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