President Trump declined to say Friday whether he had discussed Joe Biden or his family during a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has drawn intense scrutiny, but he told reporters that “someone ought to look into” the former vice president.
Trump’s call with Zelensky is under investigation by House Democrats, who are examining whether Trump and his attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign by seeking information that could be damaging to Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.
The call has drawn heightened attention in recent days amid revelations that an intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint that involved communications with a foreign leader and that the communication centered on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In May, Giuliani canceled a controversial planned trip to Ukraine that he had admitted was intended to apply pressure on its government to investigate Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his work for a Ukrainian gas company that had previously been of interest to investigators in the country.
Asked Friday if he had discussed Biden with Zelensky, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.”
Trump then referenced allegations that Biden, as vice president, had inappropriately pressured Ukraine to dismiss the prosecutor who investigated his son, adding that reporters should pursue the matter.
Biden did urge Ukraine to fire the prosecutor, with the threat of withholding U.S. aid, but his position reflected that of the U.S. government and several other Western countries more broadly for other reasons.
Trump maintained that his conversations with world leaders are “always appropriate . . . at the highest level, always appropriate,” and he said his phone call with Zelensky had been “a beautiful conversation.”
Trump also labeled the whistleblower “partisan” but said he did not know his or her identity.
“I don’t know the identity of the whistleblower. I just hear it’s a partisan person, meaning it comes out from another party,” Trump said.
His comments at the White House came after morning tweets in which Trump freshly denied having had a “dicey” phone call that is central to the potentially explosive whistleblower complaint and blamed the controversy on “Radical Left Democrats and their Fake News Media partners.”
The whistleblower complaint was filed 2½ weeks after Trump’s call with Zelensky.
Democrats and journalists “think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblowers statement,” Trump said. “Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward. Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!”
The whistleblower complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a “promise” that Trump made, which so alarmed a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House that the person went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said.
The Democrats’ investigation was launched earlier this month, before revelations that an intelligence official had lodged a complaint with the inspector general. The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that the complaint had to do with a “promise” that Trump made when communicating with a foreign leader.
In his morning tweets Wednesday, Trump singled out one of the Democrats key to the investigation, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).
The president asserted that the “Radical Left Democrats and their Fake News Media partners, headed up again by Little Adam Schiff, and batting Zero for 21 against me, are at it again!”
On Thursday, Schiff warned of possible legal action Thursday if intelligence officials did not share the whistleblower complaint.
Speaking to reporters, Schiff called acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire’s refusal to share the complaint with Congress “unprecedented” and said he understood the Justice Department was involved in that decision.
“We cannot get an answer to the question about whether the White House is also involved in preventing this information from coming to Congress,” Schiff said, adding: “We’re determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is to make sure that the national security is protected.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) weighed in with a statement on Friday saying Trump and Maguire’s “stonewalling must end immediately.”
“The Administration’s blocking of Acting DNI Joseph Maguire from providing Congress with the whistleblower complaint violates the federal statute, which unequivocally states that the DNI ‘shall’ provide Congress this information,” Pelosi said. “If the President has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his Administration and our democracy.”
On Friday, House Republicans cautioned against a rush to judgment about what had occurred, with several predicting the story line would later change.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) stressed that, despite lots of speculation, the content of the whistleblower’s complaint remains publicly unknown.
“We don’t know, obviously, what the dispute is, we just literally don’t know, so I’m not in a position to speculate what the president did or didn’t do, what the whistleblower blew a whistle on, so until we know more, I think it’s hard to do much.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform committee and a stalwart Trump backer, compared the allegations to the previous accusations Trump faced that he had colluded with Russia to swing the results of the 2016 election.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen this movie before: Democrats come out, they’re all spun up, Adam Schiff makes all kinds of statements, and then when the facts come out: Whoa, different story!” he said. “This seems to be the same kind of deal.”
Asked whether he would urge Trump to tell Maguire to share the whistleblower allegations with Congress, he declined to do so: “That’s up to the president, and the president’s got to look at what’s in the best interest of the United States. He’s got to look at the big picture, and I trust him to do that, and he’ll make that decision.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), another Trump loyalist, called it “typical Adam Schiff: Make it a big problem until finally, two years from now, everybody says, ‘Oh, it was a nothingburger.’ ”
But he, too, declined to call on the White House to allow Congress to review the allegations: “It would have a real chilling effect on dialogue between important leaders if they think that every time someone who overhears a conversation that wasn’t even party to the conversation is going to file a whistleblower complaint, and it’ll end up on the front page of periodicals across the country.”
Democrats, meanwhile, pledged to investigate what had transpired.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said he was troubled by reports that the whistleblower’s allegations concerned Ukraine and doubly troubled that Giuliani openly admitted during a television interview Thursday night to trying to get Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden’s family.
Engel said his panel is “going to be looking into that kind of behavior” and that it is “something that a lot of members including myself are very concerned with.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, expressed concern that the Trump administration’s handling of the whistleblower’s complain could discourage others from coming forward.
“If when somebody blows the whistle, the only person that hears it are the people about whom the complaint is being lodged and they can shut it down, that completely defeats the purpose of the whistleblower statute,” he said.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, said the whistleblower’s allegations have “paramount” urgency for Democrats.
“A lot of the issues the president faces in Congress are of the past, and this is an upcoming election where they are essentially saying they are actively trying to get a foreign government to affect the outcome,” he said. “If we learned the lesson from 2016, we have to stop that now.”
Rachael Bade, Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Greg Miller and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.