President Trump, in the midst of a political firestorm over evidence showing he pressured the newly elected president of Ukraine to coordinate with his personal lawyer and attorney general to investigate a political rival, sat down for a previously-scheduled joint press conference with that man, Volodymyr Zelensky, at the United Nations Wednesday afternoon.
The White House has for weeks refused to turn over to Congress a whistle-blower complaint filed after the call. Reports of complaint, deemed serious enough by the inspector general of the intelligence community that it was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation, and the administration’s refusal to turn it over to Congress prompted Democrats on Wednesday to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s behavior.
Which is all to say it was a bit of awkward timing for Zelensky and Trump to take questions together from reporters. During the conversation, Trump spoke about their shared desire to “stop corruption in Ukraine.”
Asked directly if he felt any pressure from Trump to investigate Biden, Zelensky hedged. “I think you read everything. I think you read text,” he said. “I — I’m sorry, I don’t want to be involved in Democratic, open, elections — elections of U.S.A. No, you heard. We had I think good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. So, I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed. Pushed me. ”
Trump interjected: “In other words: no pressure.”
Later, when asked whether he wanted Zelensky to investigate Biden, Trump then went on to make unfounded claims about the former Vice President’s son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company from 2014 until 2019. “I want him to do whatever he can,” Trump said of Zelensky. “Biden’s son walks out of Ukraine with millions and millions of dollars,” Trump said. “I think it’s a horrible thing, a horrible thing.”
He went on to praise Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, who has pressured Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden. “Rudy is looking to find out where the phony witch hunt started.” Trump also suggested, in response to a question from a reporter, that Ukraine might have emails belonging to Hillary Clinton.
During the conversation, Trump also urged Zelensky — whose country is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid to fight Russian-aligned forces — to work things out with President Putin. Trump commended Zelensky for making “a lot of progress with Russia,” adding, it “would be nice to end that whole disaster.” He later said he “really” hoped Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Zelensky appeared to avoid Trump’s searching gaze as he said that.)
Look of existential terror descends over Zelensky's face as Trump responds to question about military aid with suggestion that Zelensky work things out with Putin. pic.twitter.com/XmsyMi3cbj
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 25, 2019