President Trump said on Tuesday that he would release the transcript of his July phone call with the Ukrainian president in an effort to quell the controversy over whether he pressed for Kiev to investigate a political rival.
Mr. Trump insisted that the call was “totally appropriate” and pledged to release its full text on Wednesday.
While the July transcript will answer some questions, the call is only one aspect of Mr. Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainians that have come under scrutiny in recent days. A whistle-blower complaint, which the administration has blocked lawmakers from seeing, is said to deal at least in part with Ukraine and cover multiple actions.
Mr. Trump’s sudden announcement, made between meetings at an annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York, comes a day after he wavered on whether he wanted the transcript made public. “I don’t think it’s a great precedent, so I didn’t say I was going to release it at all,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Monday.
Mr. Trump’s announcement comes as House Democrats move closer than ever before to beginning impeachment proceedings against him. The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, also tweeted that the unnamed whistle-blower may testify before the panel as soon as this week.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he had held up American military aid to Ukraine this summer because European countries have not paid their fair share to help defend the former Soviet republic from Russian aggression, and pointed to the money’s eventual release this month as evidence that he had done nothing wrong. A day before, Mr. Trump cited Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt government as the reason for the delay.
The funds were frozen before Mr. Trump pressed the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate a leading Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
He also said that a groundswell for his impeachment among Democratic lawmakers amounted to a new “witch hunt.”
“I’m leading in the polls and they have no idea how to stop me,” Mr. Trump said, addressing reporters minutes he spoke at the United Nations gathering. The president trails the leading Democratic candidates in most polls. “The only way they can try is through impeachment,” he added.
The $391 million aid package in question was provided to Ukraine for its defense against a Russian-backed separatist insurgency in its east which has left more than 13,000 people dead over the past five years.
Mr. Trump also noted that the funds allocated for Ukraine “were fully paid,” although he did not mention the fact that his administration acted only after the delay became public through news media leaks, and under bipartisan pressure from Congress.
He also did not mention that he had changed his explanation for withholding the money from just a day before. On Monday, he linked his decision to block the aid to his concerns about corruption in Ukraine, citing Mr. Biden as an example. By emphasizing instead his overall concern about foreign aid, he was advancing a rationale less tied to his demand for an investigation.
Mr. Trump earlier repeated his assertion that the transcript would exonerate him.
“When you see the call, when you see the readout of the call, which I assume you’ll see at some point, you’ll understand that call was perfect,” he said.
In a brief interview with Voice of America’s Ukrainian outlet, Mr. Zelensky said he expected continued support from the United States and predicted that a meeting he is scheduled to have with Mr. Trump at the United Nations on Wednesday would “be very warm.”
“We just want the U.S. to always support Ukraine and Ukraine’s course in its fight against aggression and war,” Mr. Zelensky said at the United Nations. “It seems to me that it is so. And everything seems to lead to this.”
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