WASHINGTON — President Trump urged the president of Ukraine to contact Attorney General William P. Barr about opening a potential corruption investigation connected to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to a transcript of a July phone call at the center of accusations that Mr. Trump pressured a foreign leader to find dirt on a political rival.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Mr. Trump said in response to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine raising the prospect of acquiring military equipment from the United States. The president then also asked for another inquiry: that the Ukrainians examine an unsubstantiated theory about stolen Democratic emails.
After a whistle-blower raised concerns about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the director of national intelligence and the inspector general for the intelligence community each referred the complaint for a possible criminal investigation into the president’s actions, according to a Justice Department official.
The department’s criminal division reviewed the matters and concluded that there was no basis for a criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s behavior. Law enforcement officials determined that the transcript of the call did not show that Mr. Trump had violated campaign finance laws by soliciting from a foreign national a contribution, donation or thing of value.
During the call, Mr. Trump told Mr. Zelensky that he should be in touch with both Mr. Barr and the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, according to the transcript released by the White House on Wednesday.
“There is a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Mr. Trump said to Mr. Zelensky during the call, according to the transcript. “So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”
The Justice Department said Wednesday that Mr. Barr was unaware that Mr. Trump had told Mr. Zelensky that he would contact him. The department said that Mr. Barr has never spoken with Mr. Trump about working with Ukraine to investigate anything related to the Bidens and that he has never spoken with Mr. Giuliani about “anything related to Ukraine.”
Though rooting out widespread corruption in Ukraine has long been an American foreign policy goal, Mr. Trump referenced Mr. Biden during the call. Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have long pushed for Ukrainian officials to examine whether there was any improper overlap between Mr. Biden’s dealings with Ukraine while in office and his son’s position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
But Mr. Trump’s suggestion that American law enforcement be directly involved and in contact with Ukraine’s government marks the first evidence that the president personally sought to harness the power of the United States government to further a politically motivated investigation.
Transcript: Trump’s Call With the Ukrainian President
Trump is accused of pressing Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.
Mr. Trump specifically asked his Ukrainian counterpart to come to the aid of the United States by looking into the unsubstantiated theory pushed by Mr. Giuliani holding that Ukrainians had some role in the emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
“I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of that,” Mr. Trump said on the call, also referencing Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s election sabotage. “Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it, if that’s possible.”
Mr. Trump’s allies argue that he was not exerting improper pressure on Mr. Zelensky, but mentioned Mr. Barr because the Justice Department was already reviewing the origins of the inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election meddling.
The president’s mentions of Mr. Barr and Mr. Giuliani were the most striking part of a half-hour conversation in which the two men discussed a series of issues. But several times, Mr. Trump steered the conversation back to Mr. Barr, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Biden.
There was no explicit reference to the $391 million in foreign aid that Mr. Trump had told Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to put a hold on several days before the call took place.
The details of the call — which were first revealed by a whistle-blower who works in the intelligence community — prompted Democrats on Tuesday to formally open an impeachment inquiry, accusing Mr. Trump of betraying his country by pressuring a foreign leader to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden.
But until Wednesday, lawmakers had not yet seen the transcript, which documents the 30-minute call and includes banter about Mr. Zelensky staying at the Trump Hotel and the two men comparing which of their airplanes is better.
The July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky is at the center of a rapidly escalating political crisis for the American president, who now faces an impeachment inquiry as he prepares to run for re-election.
In the days before the transcript was released, news reports revealed that Mr. Trump used the call in July to pressure Mr. Zelensky for an investigation about Mr. Biden’s actions on behalf of his son Hunter Biden’s work with a business in Ukraine.
That followed repeated efforts over the past several months by Mr. Giuliani to urge the Ukrainians to start an investigation into Mr. Biden.
Attorney General William P. Barr at the White House last week. The Justice Department said Wednesday that Mr. Barr was unaware that Mr. Trump had told Mr. Zelensky that he would contact him.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
Over the weekend, Mr. Trump publicly acknowledged that he discussed the former vice president with Mr. Zelensky, even as he angrily railed against what he called another “witch hunt” and insisted that his conversation with the Ukrainian president was perfectly appropriate.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Sunday. “It was largely corruption — all of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
Over the next several days, the president offered a series of shifting and at times contradictory explanations and justifications for his conversation with Mr. Zelensky and his decision this summer to freeze $391 million in aid to Ukraine. It was unblocked after officials at the Office of Management and Budget raised concerns that the money would be impounded, making it harder to spend in the future, and after two Republican senators — Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — raised concerns to the White House.
Mr. Trump made no direct or indirect mentions of aid to Ukraine during the July 25 call, according to the transcript. But Mr. Trump does repeatedly mention Mr. Biden, saying at one point that the former vice president had bragged about stopping a prosecution involving the company that his son worked for — a charge for which there is no public evidence.
According to the transcript, Mr. Zelensky responded that Ukraine has a good prosecutor now.
In New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly, which opened Monday, Mr. Trump at one point repeated his assertion that the conversation with Mr. Zelensky was about corruption. But he later said he had frozen the aid because European countries were not committing their fair share toward defending Ukraine against Russian aggression.
Mr. Trump and his allies inside the White House initially refused to allow the transcript of the call to be released to lawmakers or disclosed publicly. They argued that doing so would set a dangerous precedent and would discourage frank conversations between presidents and foreign leaders.
Faced with mounting demands for details of the call to be disclosed, including by Senate Republicans, Mr. Trump relented on Tuesday. He said on Twitter that he had “authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified” information about the call and directed the administration to release it, unredacted.
But Mr. Trump’s advisers, even as the president gave in, said they believed that Democrats had gone too far and that the transcript — and the substance of the whistle-blower’s complaint — would prove not to be damaging to Mr. Trump.
Meanwhile, the president made it clear on Twitter that he planned to aggressively fight Democratic efforts to impeach him. He lashed out at the allegations of impropriety regarding the call, saying they were nothing more than “more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage.” And he denounced what he called “crazy” partisanship by his opponents.
“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT,” he tweeted Tuesday evening.
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