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Trump contends ‘no quid pro quo’ with Ukraine is ‘whole ballgame’ on impeachment

Democratic Sen. Murphy: President used ‘access to the White House’ to ‘help destroy his political rival’

President Donald Trump walks out of the White House to answer questions while departing the White House on Thursday. He did so again Friday under fire about his actions regarding Ukraine, China and Joe Biden. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks out of the White House to answer questions while departing the White House on Thursday. He did so again Friday under fire about his actions regarding Ukraine, China and Joe Biden. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Friday declared his requests that foreign governments investigate his domestic political foes are in bounds, and said a probe of the Bidens would not be required of China before a possible trade deal is finalized.

His comments came as Republican and Democratic lawmakers sparred over text messages released late Thursday night showing U.S. diplomats in Ukraine discussing offers to — and demands of — that country’s new government for a pledge to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in return for diplomatic prizes President Volodymyr Zelenskiy desperately wanted from Trump.

“I don’t care about politics, but I do care about corruption,” Trump told reporters repeatedly as he departed the White House for Walter Reed military hospital.

[Trump cites ‘obligation to end corruption,’ but former aide says he’s digging deeper hole]

He said he never directly asked for a quid pro quo — meaning giving Ukraine or China something in return for a probe of 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden — even though text messages House Democrats released Thursday night showing conversations from top U.S. diplomats suggests otherwise.

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“That’s the whole ballgame,” the president said, saying House Democrats lack enough evidence against him of a crime or abusing his power to impeach him — or convince enough Senate Republicans to vote with Democrats to remove him at the conclusion of the required trial in that chamber should the House approve articles of impeachment.

“We’re looking at corruption. We’re not looking at politics,” he claimed over the loud hum of Marine One’s engines, saying he discusses matters with other world leaders “appropriately.”

“When this came out, it was ‘quid pro quo’ – well, there is none,” the president said. “But now, the Democrats don’t bring that up anymore because they lied.”

To be clear, House Democrats have said a White House-prepared summary of the call shows Trump implying to Zelenskiy that he might tie the military aid package and/or a White House meeting to the Eastern European leader launching a Biden investigation.

Polls suggest has lost ground on the impeachment question with independent and Republican voters, including several key voting blocs that will help decide whether he gets a second term.

‘Using White House access’

Senate Foreign Relations member Christopher S. Murphy and other Democrats say the text messages released late Thursday — in which diplomats openly discuss trading a White House meeting desired by Ukraine’s new president and possibly a massive U.S. military aid package for a Biden investigation — show the commander in chief has abused his power.

“We now know that Trump was using access to the White House to get a foreign government to help destroy his political rival,” the Connecticut senator wrote in a Friday morning tweet. “There was an explicit quid pro quo: open an investigation into my rival, and I will invite you to the White House.”

But Trump’s most vocal congressional GOP defenders, like North Carolina’s Mark Meadows, say House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California “cherry-picked” the text messages the panel released Thursday night after hearing from former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker for around nine hours rather than a full transcript of the deposition.

[Analysis: Dodge. Deny. Defame. Testy Trump adds fuel to raging impeachment battle]

“It’s because he’s misleading. Again,” Meadows tweeted Friday. “The actual interview directly undermined Democrats’ impeachment effort.”

‘I’m different’

Though congressional Democrats and some legal experts contend Trump’s push for Ukraine’s government – and now China to do the same – violates federal law at most and amounts to an abuse of power that could be impeachment fodder, one former official says it might help him politically.

Joe Lockhart, a former senior aide to President Bill Clinton during his impeachment, said Trump’s increasingly defiant words send a clear message: “I did it,” he told CNN Friday. “I did it again.”

The former reality television star is reminding voters “I’m different” and “I break the rules to get results,” Lockhart added.

Meantime, Trump confirmed reports that his team is preparing a letter for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California stating his administration doesn’t have to comply with Democrats’ demands for documents. His claim will be Pelosi never held a floor vote about starting a formal impeachment inquiry.

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