Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Oct. 7 said he felt President Donald Trump should not have mentioned “the Biden issue” in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but that what Trump did is not an impeachable offense.
“The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent,” Portman told The Columbus Dispatch.
“I don’t view it as an impeachable offense,” he added. “I think the House frankly rushed to impeachment assuming certain things.”
Over the weekend, Trump posted on Twitter a quote from Peter Schweizer, who is the author of the book “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends,” which details Hunter Biden’s activities in China and Ukraine.
He wrote: “‘President Trump would be negligent if he did not bring this matter, Biden, up. If the V.P. of the U.S. is self enriching & engaged in criminal behavior, at a minimum corrupt behavior, it ought to be looked at.’ Peter Schweizer, author, ‘Secret Empires.'”
“President Trump would be negligent if he did not bring this matter, Biden, up. If the V.P. of the U.S. is self enriching & engaged in criminal behavior, at a minimum corrupt behavior, it ought to be looked at.” Peter Schweizer, author, “Secret Empires.” @marklevinshow
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2019
Speaking to reporters before departing Washington on Oct. 3, Trump told them that Ukraine and China should investigate the Bidens.
“I would think if they were honest about it they would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens,” Trump said when asked whether Ukraine should probe the Bidens.
“And by the way, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened with China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Trump said on Oct. 2 that Sen. Portman had urged him to release military aid funds to Ukraine after its delivery was delayed. There had been claims accusing Trump of having withheld the military aid and floated its release as a “quid pro quo” for an investigation into the Bidens. However, Trump told reporters that he had blocked the aid to Ukraine because of high levels of corruption and to spur European partners to shoulder a greater share of security assistance.
The Trump-Zelensky July 25 phone call is the focus of an impeachment inquiry into Trump, which was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sept. 24. Pelosi alleged that Trump “seriously violated the Constitution.”
“This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically,” Pelosi announced on Sept. 24. She alleged that Trump’s presidency “revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
In response, Trump accused House Democrats of pursuing another “witch hunt.”
The origin of the impeachment inquiry traces back to an anonymous person who on Aug. 12 filed a complaint with the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG). A redacted version of what is now commonly referred to as the “whistleblower complaint” was made public on Sept. 26, wherein the person accused Trump of “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country.”
The person—who did not hear the phone call firsthand—said they’d spoken to more than six U.S. officials who have conveyed information supporting the claim, and they specifically mentioned the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
Multiple Requests in Phone Call
According to the transcript, Trump in a part of the call asked Zelensky to look into CrowdStrike—a technology firm that was hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC)—to probe what happened to its computer network after a potential hack of a DNC server. In the call, Trump mentioned that one of the DNC servers is possibly being held in Ukraine.
In another part of the call, Trump asked Zelensky to look into the firing of a top Ukrainian prosecutor, Victor Shokin, in 2016.
“I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair,” he told Zelensky. “A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.”
He then said that he would have his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani call Zelensky. Trump also mentioned that the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, “was bad news.”
Giuliani has alleged Yovanovitch blocked efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, according to The Wall Street Journal. Yovanovitch is set to testify before House lawmakers on Oct. 11 as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Trump then said in the phone call: “The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went about bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
In response, Zelensky said, “I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor,” referring to Shokin. Zelensky later added that, “It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 percent,” referring to Yovanovitch. Zelensky added that the next prosecutor, whose appointment started in September, “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this case.”
Zelensky also asked Trump, “If you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country,” with regard to Yovanovitch.
Ruslan Ryaboshapka, Ukraine’s new prosecutor general, said on Oct. 4 that he is “conducting an audit” of closed cases, including one involving energy giant Burisma.
“There are 15 cases where Zlochevsky, Biden, Kurchenko, and other people and companies could be involved or could be targets for investigation,” Ryaboshapka said. “We are now looking again at all cases that were closed or broken up or were investigated earlier to make a decision to reconsider those instances where illegal procedural decisions were made.”
Ryaboshapka said he was not aware of any evidence of wrongdoing by the younger Biden and that he had not been contacted by any foreign lawyers about the case.
Former Prosecutor Claims Pressure to Drop Biden Probe
Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of Burisma from 2014 to 2019. Schweizer had previously said that Hunter was paid $83,000 a month to sit on Burisma’s board of directors as an advisor and consultant, even though he had no background in energy.
U.S. banking records cited by The Hill indicate Hunter Biden’s American-based firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, received regular transfers from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015, typically amounting to more than $166,000 a month. The period in question is also when Joe Biden was America’s point-man on Ukraine matters as vice president.
Shokin was in charge of an investigation into Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Shokin was fired in April 2016. In March of the same year, Joe Biden had threatened to cut off $1 billion in guaranteed loans to Ukraine unless Shokin was dismissed.
“I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,” Biden recounted at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2018. “Well, son of a [expletive], he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
According to Giuliani’s notes, obtained by Fox News, Shokin was pressured to drop the investigation—he told Giuliani on Jan. 23 that his “investigations stopped out of fear of the United States.”
Giuliani’s notes, as cited by Fox, say that “Mr. Shokin attempted to continue the investigations but on or around June or July of 2015, the U.S. Ambassador [to Ukraine] Geoffrey R. Pyatt told him that the investigation has to be handled with white gloves, which according to Mr. Shokin, that implied do nothing.” According to the notes, Shokin was told Biden had held up U.S. aid to Ukraine over this investigation.
Shokin then said that Yovanovitch denied him visa travel to the United States, and claimed it was because “she is close to Mr. Biden.” When he was fired in April 2016, his case was “closed by the current Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko,” Giuliani’s notes of the January conversation said, according to Fox.
In a sworn affidavit obtained in late September by The Hill, Shokin told a European court that he was removed from his position because he refused to drop the investigation.
“The truth is that I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas firm active in Ukraine, and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a member of the Board of Directors,” Shokin wrote.
Shokin said former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to him multiple times and asked him to close down the probe into Burisma but he refused.
“In my conversations with Poroshenko at the time, he was emphatic that I should cease my investigations regarding Burisma. When I did not, he said that the U.S. (via Biden) were refusing to release the $1 billion promised to Ukraine. He said that he had no choice.”
Tom Ozimek and Janita Kan contributed to this report.