Trump: ‘It doesn’t matter what I discussed’ on call that drew whistleblower’s complaint

President announces sanctions at the ‘highest level’ against Iran after strike against Saudi oil facility

President Donald Trump is mired in another crisis, this time over an allegation he made a troubling “promise” to another world leader. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump is mired in another crisis, this time over an allegation he made a troubling “promise” to another world leader. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)
Posted September 20, 2019 at 9:41am

President Donald Trump on Friday did not deny discussing former Vice President Joe Biden with his Ukranian counterpart during a telephone conversation that reportedly prompted an intelligence community whistleblower to file a formal complaint.

“It doesn’t matter what I discussed,” Trump told reporters Friday, according to a pool report. The ever defiant president then ran toward the controversy, saying, “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

Earlier Friday Trump tried to discredit the unidentified whistleblower as “highly partisan.” At the same time, Trump said he does not know the identity of the whistleblower, which raises questions about how he could know that the individual is “highly partisan.”

Trump dismissed the whistleblower matter as “another political hack job.”

The Washington Post and other media outlets have reported the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint stems from a telephone conversation Trump had over the summer with a senior Ukrainian official, most likely new President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Post first reported that the complaint had been filed because the intelligence official was concerned about a “promise” Trump made to that leader.

Trump, during a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the Oval Office, was asked directly if the complaint stemmed from a July 25 call with Zelensky. He replied, “I really don’t know.”

The intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, dubbed the matter one of great concern. The Trump-Zelensky call was made about two and a half weeks before the Aug. 12 complaint was filed; the conversation already was under investigation by House Democrats. That’s because they want to know whether Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was trying to press Zelensky’s government to investigate one of Trump’s political opponents to help the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Giuliani has not denied having such conversations, which are related to his contention that while Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden was vice president, he convinced the Ukrainian government to drop an investigation into a company linked to one of Biden’s sons. Giuliani said on CNN Thursday night that there was nothing inappropriate about his conversations with Ukrainian officials.

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He also said that if Trump, as president, had asked Zelensky to look into the company in question and Biden’s son, such an ask is within the powers of the Office of the President. The next morning, the president defended himself on Twitter.

Trump suggested — as he does almost daily — that “Radical Left Democrats” and “Fake News Media” are somehow “partners” in a conspiracy targeting him and his presidency.

“They think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblowers statement,” he tweeted.

The White House and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire are blocking release of the complaint to Congress. That is allowing Giuliani and Trump to try shaping a narrative about the individual and circumstances surrounding the call, which Trump said others were listening to.

“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,” the president tweeted.

He claimed of the call that “there was nothing said wrong,” describing his conversation with the comedian-turned-Ukrainian leader as “pitch perfect!”

But further muddying the waters was a Trump administration hold placed on U.S. military aid to Ukraine. The aid had been planned to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia after Russia used military force to annex the Crimea region in 2014.

Democratic response

Democratic lawmakers, so far, are walking a tightrope on the matter. They say it is too early to talk specifics of the classified matter while also warning that it would be nefarious — and possibly illegal — for a sitting commander-in-chief to trade an action like approving military aid in return for a foreign leader going after one of his top political opponents.

“I obviously trust the judgment of our [Intelligence Committee] chair, Adam Schiff, and he’s following this very closely with an expert eye on what the law is, what protections there are for whistleblowers and where does it cross a line of a conversation that the president may have or a commitment he may make for our nation that the public should be aware of. And they’re having conversations as we speak,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

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Some Republicans also are concerned about the prospect of a sitting president possibly seeking a political quid pro quo from another country to help him secure a second term.

“No president should ever utilize or use American power in any way like to affect an election,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee member Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican. “So, if that happened, that would be a problem.”

“It’s one thing to go after corruption. We should. That’s a huge problem in Ukraine,” Kinzinger said Friday on CNN. “That’s a huge problem in Ukraine. But if you say, ‘Go after it specifically for a political target that affects somebody in office in the United States,’ that’s a major problem.”

No lawmaker, however, Republican or Democratic, has suggested what Congress might do about it — if anything — should Trump admit it or the whistleblower be able to prove their case.

Iran sanctions

Trump announced sanctions at the “highest level” on Iran’s central banking system. He said the economic penalties go to the “very top” of the country’s government. He said Iran’s economy is “going to Hell” and is “broke” because of sanctions his administration has imposed over its nuclear program.

“There’s never been another country more prepared,” Trump said of the U.S. military’s ability to strike Iran, veering again toward hawkish rhetoric after Tehran allegedly hit Saudi oil facilities with a missile strike.

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