NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday shrugged off talk about impeachment over reports that he had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to launch an investigation that could damage Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
Asked how seriously he was taking the threat of impeachment by Congress, Trump said, “Not at all seriously.”
On Sunday, Trump acknowledged that he discussed Democratic presidential hopeful Biden and his son in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on Friday said Trump repeatedly asked the Ukrainian leader in the call to investigate the involvement of Biden’s son, Hunter, with a Ukrainian energy company. He also asked Zelenskiy to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who had been urging Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden and his family.
As he arrived at the United Nations for the General Assembly on Monday, Trump told reporters: “We had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine. Everybody knows it. It’s just a Democrat witch hunt.”
Trump did not provide evidence the allegations were politically motivated. Media reports about the phone call stemmed from a classified whistleblower report from the U.S. intelligence community.
The call has sparked a political battle between Democrats warning of a national security threat and Republicans turning it into an attack on former vice president Biden, a frontrunner in the field of Democrats seeking to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats are outraged that Trump may have sought help in the election from a foreign country, especially after Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded Russia waged a widespread influence and propaganda campaign to help Trump win in 2016.
IMPEACHMENT OR NOT?
“He thinks he can get away with it. The president thinks he can act with impunity,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said at a news conference in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Democratic leader of a key congressional panel said on Sunday the pursuit of Trump’s impeachment may be the “only remedy” to the situation.
However, it is far from clear whether there is enough support for Democrats in the House of Representative to launch impeachment proceedings. Any such effort would face a hurdle getting through the Republican-led Senate.
The media reports about the phone call also said Trump repeatedly asked Zelenskiy to investigate whether Biden misused his position as vice president under former President Barack Obama to threaten to withhold U.S. aid unless a prosecutor who was looking into the gas company in which Biden’s son was involved was fired.
Biden has confirmed he wanted the prosecutor fired but denies it was to help his son. Biden said the wider U.S. government, the European Union and other international institutions also wanted the prosecutor fired for his alleged failure to pursue major corruption cases.
A top official in Zelenskiy’s administration told Reuters
that Ukraine wants to stay out of the domestic political battle in Washington and that any attempt by either side to take advantage of Ukraine would damage relations.
Ukrainian officials have been reluctant to divulge details of the call.
“It was a conversation between two presidents. Whatever was discussed, even if they spoke about spaceships, I am not going to comment on it, because this was a conversation between two presidents,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, the top official of the body responsible for coordinating national security.
“It is the U.S. internal affairs and we have nothing to do with that,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, David Morgan in Washington and Ilya Zhegulev in Ukraine; Editing by Alistair Bell)