A bitterly divided Congress plunges into Trump impeachment investigation 

  • President Donald Trump listens during a multilateral meeting on Venezuela at the InterContinental New York Barclay hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. holds up a copy of a White House released rough transcript of a phone call between President Donald Trump and the President of Ukraine as Schumer speaks to the media about an impeachment inquiry on President Trump, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

  • A White House-released rough transcript of President Donald Trump's July 25, 2019 telephone conversation with Ukraine's newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, released Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow)

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is surrounded by reporters as she arrives to meet with her caucus the morning after declaring she will launch a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., departs the Capitol en route to a speaking event in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. Pelosi will meet with her caucus later as more House Democrats are urging an impeachment inquiry amid reports that President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • President Donald Trump walks away after delivering remarks to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the InterContinental Barclay hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in New York. The conversation between Trump and Ukraine’s president is just one piece of the whistleblower’s overall complaint _ made in mid-August _ which followed Trump’s July 25 call. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump attends a multilateral meeting on Venezuela at the InterContinental New York Barclay hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

  • FILE - In this Dec. 19, 1998, file photo, President Bill Clinton looks on as Vice President Gore addresses members of congress outside the Oval Office after the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president. Donald Trump joins a small group of fellow presidents now that he's the subject of an official impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. Only three of his predecessors underwent similar proceedings: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, who were acquitted after trials in the Senate, and Richard Nixon, who resigned to avoid being impeached in connection with the Watergate scandal. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File) DOUG MILLS

  • FILE - In this April 29, 1974, file photo, President Richard M. Nixon points to the transcripts of the White House tapes after he announced during a nationally-televised speech that he would turn over the transcripts to House impeachment investigators, in Washington. Donald Trump joins a small group of fellow presidents now that he's the subject of an official impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. Only three of his predecessors underwent similar proceedings: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, who were acquitted after trials in the Senate, and Richard Nixon, who resigned to avoid being impeached in connection with the Watergate scandal. (AP Photo/File)

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joins a rally of organized labor to show support for union workers, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, joins impeachment activists with a youth-led group, By The People, to call for Congress to remove President Donald Trump from office, outside the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Rep. Green, joined by Alex Meltzer, 9, of Boston, has pressed for Trump's impeachment three times. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives to speak to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, center, leaves a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., before a closed door caucus meeting about impeachment, Tuesday Sept. 24, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

  • U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Mary Altaffer

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih at the Lotte New York Palace hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

Published: 9/25/2019 4:40:50 PM

President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed Ukraine’s president to “look into” Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats’ impeachment probe into Trump.

Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. At one point in the conversation, Trump said, “I would like for you to do us a favor.”

The president’s words set the parameters for the debate to come — just the fourth impeachment investigation of an American president in the nation’s history. The initial response highlighted the deep divide between the two parties: Democrats said the call amounted to a “shakedown” of a foreign leader, while Trump — backed by the vast majority of Republicans — dismissed it as a “nothing call.”

The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint on the president’s activities. After being stymied by the administration, lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees will get their first look at the complaint on Wednesday. Congress is also seeking an in-person interview with the whistleblower, who remains anonymous.

Trump spent the day meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. On his schedule: a meeting with Zelenskiy.

In light-hearted appearance before reporters, Zelenskiy said he didn’t want to get involved in American elections, but added, “Nobody pushed me.” Trump chimed in, “In other words, no pressure.”

The next steps in the impeachment inquiry were still developing a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the probe. Moderate Democrats, including some from districts where Trump remains popular, urged the speaker to keep the inquiry to Ukraine and not expand into other issues Congress had already been investigating.

“We need to be disciplined about how we communicate,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan. “The minute we’re talking about the intricacies of process is the minute that we are losing people.”

Pelosi announced the impeachment probe on Tuesday after months of resistance to a process she has warned would be divisive for the country and risky for her party. But after viewing the transcript on Wednesday, Pelosi declared: Congress must act.”

Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to move toward impeachment, confident that the specter of an investigation led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.

“Just so you understand, it’s the single greatest witch hunt in American history, probably in history,” Trump said during a meeting with foreign leaders in New York.

Republicans largely stood by the president and dismissed the notion that the rough transcript revealed any wrongdoing by Trump.

“I think it was a perfectly appropriate phone call, it was a congratulatory phone call,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican. “The Democrats continually make these huge claims and allegations about President Trump, and then you find out there’s no there there.”

In the rough transcript of the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr. Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine’s economy, saying: “Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country.”

In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Biden said it was “tragedy” that Trump was willing to “put personal politics above his sacred oath.” He singled out Trump’s attempts to pull Barr and the Justice Department into efforts to investigate Biden, calling it “a direct attack on the core independence of that department, an independence essential to the rule of law.”

While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.

Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.

But details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi announced the probe, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.

The burden will probably now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.




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