By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump sought Monday to defend a telephone call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has been the focus of controversy, saying the conversation that prompted a whistleblower complaint over possible wrongdoing was "perfect."
Trump acknowledged that his July call with the Ukrainian leader touched on corruption but denied anything illicit had transpired amid reports that he pressured Zelensky to probe Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden's son.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump said on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”
Trump repeatedly urged Zelensky in the call to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, on a probe into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, setting off a flurry of criticism and speculation over the Trump administration's decision to freeze some $250 million in military aid to Ukraine that had been allocated by Congress.
The two combined have raised questions of whether Trump improperly held up the funding as leverage to have Ukraine probe the junior Biden, who had sat on the board of Ukrainian gas firm Burisma Holdings when his father was in office.
Trump denied telling Ukraine that he would hold up the funding unless it investigated Biden.
“I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I won’t give you aid,” he said, but he later added "I think it would possibly have been okay if I did."
Joe Biden was the point person for Ukraine during the Obama administration and sought to have the country crack down on corruption, which included his successful call for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, which was supported at the time by the international community.
Shokin was reportedly probing Burisma Holdings among other cases.
Joe Biden is the leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination and could potentially face off against Trump next November.
The president continued to charge that Biden is corrupt, saying what he and his son allegedly did "is a disgrace." But the president has not laid out any evidence publicly to substantiate his charges.
Trump's three eldest children — Donald Trump, Jr., Eric and Ivanka — are all involved in international business dealings while their father occupies the Oval Office.
Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a transcript of the call to be released, and even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham — a stalwart Trump ally — has urged the president to be as transparent as possible regarding the discussion.
Trump said he has yet to make up his mind on releasing the transcript. He appeared to send mixed messages on whether he would do so, at once voicing his reluctance by saying it would not set "a great precedent” and then later saying “I hope you see the call."
Biden responded to Trump by reposting one of the president's tweets critical of him with the simple message: "So release the transcript of the call then."