Trump Defiant Over Allegations He Targeted a Rival via Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS — President Trump on Monday defended his efforts to urge the Ukrainian president to investigate a leading political rival for corruption, arguing that the United States should not give money to a government that tolerates it.

As he began several days of international diplomacy at the United Nations on Monday, Mr. Trump was defiant in the face of allegations that his conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in which he leveled unsubstantiated corruption charges against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, amounted to a grave abuse of presidential power.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Mr. Trump declined to address questions about whether he temporarily withheld $391 million in military aid to Kiev as part of an effort to push the government to comply with his demands for an investigation into Mr. Biden and his family. But Mr. Trump appeared to argue that such an action would not be inappropriate.

“If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?” he said.

On his way to lead a session on global religious freedom, Mr. Trump attempted to deflect attention from his own actions and tarnish Mr. Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“What Biden did is a disgrace. What his son did is a disgrace,” Mr. Trump said.

Between events at the United Nations complex, Mr. Trump also tweeted an attack against his accusers as “stone cold Crooked.” And he implied that an unnamed intelligence community whistle-blower who filed a secret complaint about his behavior, based in part on his dealings with Ukraine, might be a traitor: “Is he on our Country’s side,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Where does he come from.”

The identity of that whistle-blower, whom Mr. Trump last week accused of being “partisan,” is not publicly known. The acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is refusing to share the person’s complaint with Congress, as required by law, prompting a growing number of Democrats to consider calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment.

Mr. Trump also alleged to reporters here, without offering proof, that Hunter Biden, an international business consultant during his father’s time in office, “took money” from China, and suggested that the former vice president would strike a softer line toward Beijing as a result. China, Mr. Trump said, “can think of nothing they’d rather see than Biden get in.”

There is no evidence that the younger Mr. Biden’s business dealings have had any effect on his father’s public policy positions. Mr. Trump has seized on Joe Biden’s insistence in 2016 that Ukraine fire its top prosecutor at a time when a Ukrainian company on whose board Hunter Biden said was suspected of criminal activity. But that prosecutor was widely seen as corrupt himself and was not pursuing an active case against the company, Burisma Holdings.

Mr. Trump kicked off his diplomacy here in the morning with a brief visit to a special session on climate change attended by several major world leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. Mr. Trump, who had not been expected to attend at all, stayed for less than 15 minutes, and wrote on Twitter about the Ukraine scandal minutes after departing.

Mr. Trump then led another special session, on international religious freedom, at which he called upon “nations of the world to end religious persecution.”

“Stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, protect the vulnerable,” Mr. Trump said. The administration said Monday that the Trump administration would “dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics.”

Mr. Trump was introduced at the event by Vice President Mike Pence, who said being at the session was “among the greatest honors I’ve ever had.” Mr. Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both evangelical Christians, have emphasized the cause of religious freedom in American foreign policy, drawing criticism that they have favored Christians over other religious groups, including Muslims.

Mr. Trump met in the afternoon with the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. It was the first of many sit-downs Mr. Trump had scheduled with world leaders here — including with Mr. Zelensky, whom he will see Wednesday.

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