President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he decided last month to release aid money he had delayed giving Ukraine at the request of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman and others who had called and asked him to do it.
At a White House news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Trump responded to questions about a conversation he had with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in July that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A transcript of the conversation released by the White House shows Trump asked Zelensky to help with an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, who was involved in Ukrainian business ventures, after Zelinsky asked about buying weapons from the United States.
At the time, Trump was holding up nearly $400 million in congressionally approved support to Ukraine. Democrats like Toledo’s Marcy Kaptur say his actions showed a “clear abuse of power” that undermined U.S. national security.
Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he had hesitated before releasing the money to Ukraine because “they’re rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world,” and because he felt Europe was not providing its fair share of aid to Ukraine given the fact that Ukraine is like a “big, wide beautiful wall” that separates Russia from Europe.
“In fact, Rob Portman backed me up and there’s nobody more honorable than Rob Portman of Ohio,” said Trump. “Because he called up ‘Please, let the money go.’ I said ‘Rob, I hate being the country that’s always giving money when Ukraine helps Europe and the European countries far more than they help us.’
“And he said, ‘You know what, but it’s important,” Trump continued. “This was my only reason. Because I don’t like being the sucker country. We were the sucker country for years and years, but we’re not the sucker country any more. But I gave the money because Rob Portman and others called me and asked. But I don’t like to be the sucker. And European countries are helped far more than we are and those countries should pay more to help Ukraine.”
The money was released September 12. Portman last week told reporters that he spoke to Trump about the matter on September 11. A statement from Portman said “there was no quid pro quo regarding the military aid to Ukraine” and that “Trump was focused on the need for the Europeans to do more to help Ukraine, something I agree with.””
A whistleblower complaint that triggered the impeachment probe said Trump’s conversation with Zelensky amounted to using “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election” by “pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”
During the news conference, Trump described the whistleblower complaint as “vicious,” and the upcoming investigation of his conduct as “a hoax.” Trump also called Biden and his son “stone cold crooked.”
In an MSNBC interview conducted after Trump’s news conference, Biden disputed Trump’s claims of impropriety. He said there’s “zero evidence of any assertion being made,” and that nobody has asserted Biden did anything wrong except for Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
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