U.S. President Donald Trump had urged Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference clearing him of any illegal acts in his phone call with the Ukrainian leader, but Barr declined, The Washington Post reports.
The newspaper, citing people it says are familiar with the matter, say Trump’s request came at the time the White House released a rough transcript of the call in which Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
The Justice Department issued a statement saying no campaign finance laws were broken and “no further action was warranted.”
But it is unclear why Barr would not go beyond that statement and hold the news conference that Trump wanted.
According to the Post, Trump had told White House aides and others he wished Barr had gone before the cameras.
The Justice Department has not commented. But a senior administration official says any report of tension because there was a statement but no news conference is “completely false.”
FILE – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and U.S. President Donald Trump face reporters during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.
A whistleblower’s concern about the July Trump-Zelenskiy phone call led to the current House impeachment inquiry into Trump and whether he withheld military aid to Ukraine unless Zelenskiy publicly committed to investigating Biden for alleged corruption.
Transcript of Taylor’s testimony
The House committees Wednesday released a transcript of last month’s testimony by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine. According to the transcript, Taylor told the committees it was his “clear understanding” that Kyiv would not get military assistance Trump was withholding unless it launched investigations against Biden and the Democrats.
For weeks, Trump has denied a quid pro quo arrangement with Ukraine.
Former Ambassador William Taylor leaves a closed door meeting after testifying as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 22, 2019.
But Taylor testified that the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, repeatedly told him that while Trump did not see it as a quid pro quo, “I observed that, in order to move forward on the security assistance the Ukrainians were told by Ambassador Sondland that they had to pursue the investigations.”
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until (Zelenskiy) committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor said.
The release of Taylor’s testimony came as a high-ranking State Department official, David Hale, testified Wednesday about the ouster of America’s former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was viewed by some Trump aides as an impediment to getting Kyiv to open the investigation of Biden and his son Hunter.
A career diplomat, Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from Kyiv earlier this year and dismissed from her post months ahead of the scheduled end of her tour.
Trump, in a late July call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, described her as “bad news.” But State Department officials had told her she had not done anything wrong and, before her dismissal, had requested she extend her tour into 2020.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, had pressed for Yovanovitch’s ouster and for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Hale, the third-ranking State Department official, arrived at the Capitol for closed-door questioning, with the Associated Press reporting that he was expected to tell impeachment investigators that political considerations were behind the refusal of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a robust defense of Yovanovitch. Other Pompeo aides, including his former senior aide, Michael McKinley, have told impeachment investigators that they urged him to defend Yovanovitch, to no avail.
Hale was expected to tell investigators that Pompeo decided that defending Yovanovitch would hinder the release of the military aid that Kyiv wanted. Trump temporarily held up the assistance as he asked Zelenskiy for “a favor” in a late July phone call — the investigations of the Bidens and whether Ukraine had interfered in America’s 2016 election, not Russia, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded.
FILE – Michael McKinley, right, the top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arrives to testify at a closed-door deposition on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 16, 2019.
Three defy subpoenas
While Hale testified, three other Trump administration officials — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting White House budget chief Russell Vought and another State Department aide, Ulrich Brechtbuhl — defied congressional demands that they testify before the impeachment inquiry led by the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees in the House of Representatives.
Trump has been somewhat successful in getting key officials to defy subpoenas and not testify in the rapidly expanding impeachment inquiry. But several national security and diplomatic officials, including some still on the government payroll, have told impeachment panels that Trump was at the center of efforts pressing for the Ukraine investigations to help him politically.
It is against U.S. campaign finance laws to ask a foreign government for help in an American election.
Trump’s demands of Ukraine are at the center of the House impeachment inquiry and whether he violated U.S. national security in trying to help himself. Lawmakers already have heard weeks of closed-door testimony about Trump’s relations with the Eastern European country in advance of public hearings that open next week.
In coming weeks, the Democratic-led House could cast a simple-majority vote to impeach Trump, a Republican, leading to a trial in the Republican-majority Senate. His conviction in the Senate by a two-thirds vote would oust him from office, but his removal remains unlikely since the votes of at least 20 Republicans would be needed for a conviction.
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell is predicting that Trump will be impeached by the House and then acquitted in the Senate.
FILE – U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, center, arrives for a joint interview with the House Committees on Capitol Hill, Oct. 17, 2019.
Ambassador revises testimony
In revised testimony released Tuesday, Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU and a major donor to Trump’s 2017 inauguration celebration, said he warned an aide to Zelenskiy at a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw that the military aid to Ukraine would not be released unless Kyiv publicly launched the investigations.
Sondland’s testimony about his conversation with Zelenskiy aide Andriy Yermak in the Polish capital was sharply at odds with Trump’s contention there was no quid pro quo. Nonetheless, after withholding the military assistance for weeks, Trump released it, which Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and described his call with Zelenskiy as “perfect.” Republican lawmakers defending Trump say the fact that the military aid was released to Ukraine proves there was no reciprocal agreement with Ukraine.