Foreign Minister Denies that Trump Pressured Ukraine’s President over Biden

By Dimitri Simes | September 23, 2019 | 7:00pm EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Moscow ( – Ukraine’s foreign minister is denying that President Trump in a July phone call tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky into investigating Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic 2020 presidential frontrunner Joe Biden.

Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told Ukrainian news website Hromadske that Kiev had no intention of releasing the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, defending the right of the two leaders to keep the contents of their conversation private.

“I want to say that we are an independent country. We have our own secrets. Our president has the right to speak with another president so that conversation remains confidential,” he said. “This the one precondition that leaders set for each other so that they can exchange sensitive information.”

“American investigators have the full right to turn to the U.S. and get this information if they think that our president has been pressured. They can clear this up,” he added.

Prystaiko denied that Trump had tried coerce Zelensky during their conversation, characterizing the call between the two leaders as positive and constructive.

“I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure. There was talk, conversations are different, leaders have the right to discuss any problems that exist,” Prystaiko said. “This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on a lot of questions, including those requiring serious answers.”

The comments come after the Washington Post reported last week that Trump’s conversation with a foreign leader prompted a U.S. intelligence official to file a formal complaint with the inspector general in August. The Post later reported that the whistleblower complaint was related to Ukraine.

A subsequent report in the Wall Street Journal claimed that during a July phone call Trump “repeatedly pressured” the Ukrainian leader to launch an investigation into whether then Vice President Biden used his leverage over Kiev – as the Obama administration’s point-man on Ukraine – to protect his son’s business interests in the country.

Congressional Democrats responded by ramping up talk of impeachment, expressing concern that Trump’s recent decision to withhold military aid from Kiev may have been connected to his desire to get information about Biden’s activities in Ukraine.

“This seems different in kind and we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here,” said House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), adding that if the allegation turned out to be true, impeachment may be the only “remedy.”

There are, however, questions about how much the whistleblower actually knew about the call between Trump and Zelensky. An administration official familiar with the matter told CNN that “the whistleblower didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications” and that “the whistleblower's concerns came in part from learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work.”

Trump has strongly denied having made any inappropriate demands during his conversation with Zelensky, disputing the whistleblower’s credibility and saying repeatedly – again on Monday – that the phone conversation was “perfect.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also defended the president’s conduct, telling ABC’s “This Week” that Trump had legitimate grounds for bringing up the allegations surrounding Biden with Zelensky.

“I do think if Vice President Biden behaved inappropriately, if he was protecting his son and intervened with the Ukrainian leadership in a way that was corrupt, I do think we need to get to the bottom of that,” Pompeo said.

Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings in April 2014, shortly after his father assumed control of the Obama administration’s Ukraine portfolio. Despite having no prior experience in the gas industry or in Ukraine, the younger Biden received a monthly salary of $50,000 from Burisma Holdings.

During a March 2016 trip to Kiev, then Biden threatened to pull $1 billion in promised U.S. loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leadership did not fire the country’s attorney general Viktor Shokin, who was in the process of investigating Burisma Holding’s oligarch owner. The Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Shokin from office shortly thereafter.

Biden’s defenders have pushed back against allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the vice president, noting that Shokin faced widespread criticism inside Ukraine and from the international community for his ineffectiveness in combating corruption.

During the 2016 U.S. election campaign, Kiev released damaging information about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Shortly after the campaign hired Manafort in the spring of 2016, Ukrainian officials publicized payments that he had received from the pro-Russia Party of Regions while he was working as a political consultant in Ukraine. The revelations played a major role in bringing about Manafort’s resignation several months later.

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