US President Donald Trump lashed back at his critics yesterday, as questions swirled in the latest scandal to hit his extraordinarily embattled White House.
“Nothing was said that was in any way wrong,” Trump said of a phone call with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which, according to the Wall Street Journal, the US president asked “about eight times” that the Ukrainian leader investigate the son of former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. His son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice-president.
Trump already faces impeachment inquiries but the Ukraine call is reported to be related to an intelligence community whistleblower complaint about the president’s behaviour which is at the heart of a standoff between the White House and Congress.
Suspicions have focused on a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
Trump’s Democratic opponents have been probing that call in connection with allegations Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to pressure the Ukrainian administration to probe Hunter Biden.
When asked by reporters whether he discussed the Bidens with Zelensky, Trump said curtly: “It doesn’t matter what I discuss.”
But he did not deny having done so.
Biden -- who leads Trump according to most polls -- said the reports show the president’s “willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.” He also said Trump should release the transcript of his conversation with Zelenskiy.
Adding yet another layer to the controversy, congressional policymakers were concerned the Trump administration had been holding back military aid to Ukraine at the time. The aid was finally released last week.
Democratic lawmakers say a president conditioning foreign aid on providing dirt on a US election rival would amount to grounds for impeachment.
“The president can’t use US aid as a weapon to serve his own political purposes,” House Democrat Seth Moulton tweeted. “This is an impeachable offense if true.”
Hillary Clinton weighed in Friday with a sharp critique.
“The president asked a foreign power to help him win an election. Again,” she tweeted.
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called for Trump’s impeachment.
The whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s behaviour was filed on 12 August. The US government’s intelligence inspector general has called it “serious” and “urgent”. On Friday Trump dismissed it, insisting “it’s nothing … just another political hack job”.