NEW YORK -- President Donald Trump denied Monday that he had offered military aid to the president of Ukraine only if the country launched an inquiry into former Vice President Joe Biden and his family.
"No, I didn't," Trump said on the first day of his visit to the United Nations General Assembly when asked whether he told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he would obtain $250 million in stalled U.S. aid only if he agreed to investigate the Bidens.
"I didn't do it," Trump said, adding, "When you see the call [transcript], you're going to be very surprised."
However, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was noncommittal Monday about releasing a transcript of the July 25 call.
"When foreign leaders come together to speak, they need to be able to speak candidly, so I do think that perhaps releasing this kind of transcript could set a bad precedent," Grisham said on Fox News' Fox & Friends. "[The president is] willing to do it, I think, but there's a lot of other people, lawyers and the such, that may have a problem with it, so we'll see what happens."
Trump agreed that releasing a transcript would set a bad precedent, and he escalated his criticism of Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
"If that ever happened, if a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they'd be getting the electric chair right now," Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly raised the specter of impropriety on the part of Biden and his younger son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that Trump pushed Zelenskiy to investigate, according to people familiar with the matter.
In May, Ukraine's new prosecutor-general, Vitaliy Kasko, said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or Hunter Biden, and that there had been no U.S. pressure to close that case.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the U.N. on Monday, Trump appeared to acknowledge that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was part of the conversation, saying he didn't want to give money to Ukraine if there were corruption issues.
"If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country you think is corrupt?" Trump asked in response to a question from a reporter about the contents of the call. "One of the reasons the new president got elected is he was going to stop corruption, so it's very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption."
Earlier, he had questioned the patriotism of the intelligence agency whistleblower whose complaint is said to be related, at least in part, to the call between the two leaders.
"Also, who is this so-called 'whistleblower' who doesn't know the correct facts," Trump tweeted. "Is he on our Country's side. Where does he come from."
Late Monday, three senior administration officials said that at least a week before his phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine.
Officials at the Office of Management and Budget relayed Trump's order to the State Department and the Pentagon during an interagency meeting in mid-July, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They explained that the president had "concerns" and wanted to analyze whether the money needed to be spent.
Administration officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of an "interagency process" but to give them no additional information. That continued for nearly two months until the White House released the funds on the night of Sept. 11.
Trump's order is likely to raise questions beyond the whistleblower complaint about the call with Zelenskiy. Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who has been unwilling to turn over the complaint, is already scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Democrats moved Monday to increase political pressure on the White House and congressional Republicans to furnish documentation about the allegations, saying a failure to disclose such documentation could be considered grounds for impeachment.
In the House, the chairmen of three committees investigating the matter -- the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees -- threatened to issue subpoenas in the coming days if the administration did not hand over a transcript of the call and a related whistleblower complaint.
"Seeking to enlist a foreign actor to interfere with an American election undermines our sovereignty, democracy, and the Constitution, which the president is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend," Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in the letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who met with Zelenskiy in Ukraine in early September, said Monday that the Ukrainian president directly expressed concern that military aid was being cut off to his country by Trump as "a consequence" of his unwillingness to launch an investigation into the Bidens.
Speaking at a news conference, Murphy said that Zelenskiy was resisting the investigation because "they thought there was no merit to it" and that Zelenskiy asked him "to intervene to unlock the aid."
Republicans were divided Monday on whether Trump should release details of the July 25 phone call.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the president should offer details of the call.
"I believe that President Trump is going to blow you away with his willingness to disclose and be transparent about this phone call, because I think he did nothing wrong, and he has nothing to hide," Graham told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, adding that he wants Trump "to continue to be as transparent as possible."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was more direct.
"Let's see the transcript," he told reporters on Monday.
The Intelligence Committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he needed more information. So did other Republicans.
"We need to get the facts," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said seeing the report and transcript "would be helpful."
Trump's personal lawyer, however, said Trump should not release a transcript.
Speaking Monday on the Fox Business Network, Rudy Giuliani responded to Schiff's push for documents by saying, "I wouldn't give Adam Schiff anything."
Among Republicans declining to comment were Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., both Trump allies.
Information for this article was contributed by Seung Min Kim, Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner, Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Anne Gearan, Paul Sonne and Paul Kane of The Washington Post; by Caitlin Webber, Gregory Korte, Tyler Pager and Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg News; by Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times; and by Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Michael Balsamo and Laurie Kellman of The Associated Press.
A Section on 09/24/2019
Print Headline: Trump: Didn't coerce Ukrainian