Biden calls on Congress to investigate Trump’s ‘abuse of power’ in Ukraine affair

U.S. President Donald Trump personally ordered his staff to freeze nearly $ 400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before a phone call in which he pressured the Eastern European nation’s leader to investigate the family of Democrat Joe Biden, a revelation that comes as more Democrats move toward impeachment proceedings.

Biden, in his first formal news conference to address the allegations a week after a whistleblower complaint emerged — reportedly related to the president and Ukraine — said the matter was not a partisan issue.

“If we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever,” the Democratic presidential candidate said from Wilmington, Del., calling Trump’s actions an “abuse of power.”

Trump tweeted on Tuesday afternoon he had authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to come out Wednesday.

“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump said.

Democrats were quick to point out that the complaint encompassed more than a single phone call.

“We need the complaint,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. “Simply to release the transcript is not going to come close.”

Lawmakers are demanding details of the complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege. He is set to testify Thursday before the House.

Biden called on the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump if the administration does not co-operate fully with all ongoing investigations and subpoenas.

If it leads to impeachment, that would be “a tragedy of his own making,” Biden said.

“We have a president who believes there’s no limit to his power, said Biden, bidding for the presidency for the third time.

Former U.S. vice-president and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden hit back on some of the allegations made in the developing storyline involving the president’s interactions with Ukraine on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. (Bastiaan Slabbers/Reuters)

Trump, in remarks to reporters at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday morning, said he held up the aid to fight corruption and urge European nations to share in helping out Ukraine.

“I’d withhold again,” Trump said. “And I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine.”

It was an explanation that Trump had not put forth over a number of social media statements and answers to reporters in the days immediately following media reports of the whistleblower complaint.

Trump named Germany and France among the countries that should “put up money.” The European Union and countries including Canada have provided millions in aid to Ukraine, in fact.

Pelosi position shifting?

The matter has sparked questions about whether the president improperly used his office to pressure a foreign country to help his own re-election prospects. It has galvanized Democrats, with more warming to the prospect of impeaching the president. They include a group of moderate House freshmen in competitive districts, as well as Rep. John Lewis, the former civil rights leader from Georgia.

“I truly believe the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come. To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy,” said Lewis from the House floor.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has resisted calls for impeachment proceedings for months, is expected to speak at 5 p.m. ET, after she meets with the Democratic House chairs and the members of the party’s caucus.

Pelosi said at an event earlier in the day that Trump was “making lawlessness a virtue.” While being noncommittal to questions about impeachment, she said the party’s actions will be directed by what is allowed in the Constitution.

U.S. President Donald Trump gave what appeared to be a new explanation for his interactions with Ukraine while speaking to reporters alongside wife Melania at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Yana Paskova/Reuters)

Meanwhile, House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff said the whistleblower may be moving closer to going public and appearing before Congress.

In a July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump is said to have pushed for investigations into Biden and his son. In the days before that call, Trump ordered that aid to Ukraine be frozen, according to two people familiar with but not authorized to discuss private conversations. They spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong and has denied that any requests for help in procuring damaging information about the Bidens were tied to the aid freeze.

Multilateral effort to oust Ukraine prosecutor

Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate Biden and his son Hunter in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv.

“I knew when I decide to run this president would attack me and anyone else who’s a threat to his winning again,” said Biden.

Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice-president or his son. The evidence appears to indicate that the push to remove a controversial Ukraine prosecutor predated Hunter Biden’s appointment, and was part of a multilateral effort that included countries such as Britain and Canada.

The United States began providing military aid to the government of Ukraine shortly after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. With Ukraine’s new president still grappling with separatist rebels in the east, the aid has long been viewed as a measure of Washington’s determination to push back against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday he wants to stay out of the domestic political battle in Washington and any attempt by either side to take advantage of Ukraine would damage relations. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

The administration of Zelenskiy, the comic actor-turned-president, has tried to steer clear this week from commenting on the matter.

Democrats, and some Republicans, have urged the White House to be open about Trump’s actions. But with no new information from the administration forthcoming, more than a dozen Democrats, including some in House leadership, added their names to those calling for impeachment proceedings.

Seven Democratic House freshmen, who include a former navy pilot, soldiers, officers and intelligence analysts, wrote in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post this week that the allegations against Trump “are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent.”

Trump has stressed that foreign leaders should feel free to speak frankly with an American president without fear the details of their conversations will later be disclosed.

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