President Donald Trump did not ask Attorney General William Barr to contact Ukraine following a conversation the president had with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the Justice Department (DOJ).
This comes after a transcript of the call (pdf) between the two leaders, that was released by the White House earlier in the day, revealed that Trump had told Zelensky that he would ask Barr to work with Ukraine on probing Joe Biden regarding comments the former Democratic vice president made about how he forced the termination of a top Ukrainian prosecutor by withholding loans. The prosecutor was allegedly investigating Burisma, the gas company where Hunter Biden served on the board of directors.
“There’s a lot 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,” Trump told Zelensky, according to the transcript. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Although the president told Zelensky several times during the call that Barr would get in touch, the DOJ said the president had not spoken to the attorney general about working with Ukraine to investigate Biden.
“The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in the Sept. 25 statement to The Epoch Times. “The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine—on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine—on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
Kupec said Barr was first notified about Trump’s call with Zelensky “several weeks after the call took place, when the Department of Justice learned of a potential referral.”
Kupec added that the DOJ, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, is currently probing the extent of Ukraine’s involvement in the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
“While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating,” she said.
Early on Sept. 25, the White House released the transcript of the call between the two leaders, hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the formal impeachment inquiry into the president, which was largely prompted by allegations that Trump had acted improperly during the call with the Ukrainian president.
The Trump-Zelensky call is the subject of an anonymous whistleblower complaint sent to the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG). The handling of the complaint sparked controversy on Capitol Hill after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) failed to comply with demands from the House Intelligence committee to hand over the complaint to Congress.
The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel released an opinion (pdf) that found that Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence (DNI), did not have to send the complaint to Congress. Moreover, the inspector general also found “some indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate.”
House Democrats claimed that Trump had pressured Ukraine to launch an investigation into Biden and that such a request was inappropriate since Biden was officially running for president at the time of the call. Pelosi noted that the request did not need to feature a quid pro quo in order to be inappropriate.
The transcript showed that although Trump did ask Zelensky to look into Biden, he did not exert pressure or offer any payment when making that request—which is at the core of the political controversy.
Trump repeatedly said his conversations with foreign leaders were appropriate and he reiterated that to reporters at the United Nations on Wednesday.
“The [Ukrainian] president himself just came out with a statement that there was absolutely no pressure put on him and there wasn’t,” Trump said. “Just so people understand, it’s the single greatest witch hunt in American history—probably in history, but in American history—it’s a disgraceful thing. The letter was a great letter, meaning the letter revealing the call.”
Trump said he pushed for the release of the transcript and that there are a lot of “corrupt reporters” and “corrupt journalists,” prompting some reporters to shout out at him.
“There was no pressure. The way you had that built up, it was gonna be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said ‘I never said you could be so nice.’”
Epoch Times reporters Ivan Pentchoukov and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.