Mafia shakedown or just double standards?

2019-09-27 09:52:18 China Daily Mo Hong'e

U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meet in New York on Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. SAUL LOEB/AFP

With Trump's call to Ukrainian leader, it all depends on what spin you go with

The second day into the impeachment drama swirling around Donald Trump produced plenty of political spin along the predictable partisan lines.

A summary of a phone call that the U.S. president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25 about, among other things, the business dealings in that country of former vice-president Joe Biden's son Hunter, was released a day after House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democratic-led chamber was launching an impeachment inquiry.

According to the summary, Trump told Zelenskiy that Attorney General William Barr and Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani would speak to him about reopening a Ukrainian investigation into a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings, for which Hunter Biden had served as a director from 2014 to April this year.

"What those notes reflect is a classic Mafia-like shakedown of a foreign leader," said Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

In a statement, Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said Congress must hold Trump to account for "his abuse of power".

"It is a tragedy for this country that our president put personal politics above his sacred oath," he said.

Trump and Zelenskiy appeared together in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday and denied impropriety in the call, with Ukraine's president telling reporters "nobody pushed me".

Trump said Pelosi bowed to "radicals" in her party.

In the summary, Trump is noted as saying: "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great."

In the summary, Trump never explicitly told Zelenskiy that U.S. aid was contingent on his investigating Biden, but Trump emphasized the importance of U.S. support.

In the call, Zelenskiy thanks Trump for "your great support in the area of defense" and said he planned to buy military hardware from U.S. defense contractors Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Trump told Zelenskiy: "I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair."

He added: "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it. It sounds horrible to me."

At a Council on Foreign Relations event in 2018, in recalling a trip to Ukraine, Biden said on camera: "And I had gotten a commitment from (then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko) and from (then prime minister Arseniy) Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor (Viktor Shokin). And they didn't..."

"They were walking out to a news conference. I said, 'Nah ... we're not going to give you the billion dollars'. They said: 'You have no authority. You're not the president.' ... I said: 'Call him.'

Biden then adds: "If the prosecutor is not fired, you're not getting the money.' Well, son of a b****. He got fired."

Shokin was soon voted out by the Ukrainian Parliament. But Shokin's dismissal also had been sought by others in the administration of president Barack Obama, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

The prosecutor who replaced Shokin, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Reuters on Friday that no wrongdoing was found on the part of Biden's son in his relationship with the energy firm.

The phone call occurred after Trump had ordered a freeze of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, which the administration later released.

The controversy itself arose after a whistleblower from within the U.S. intelligence community had filed a complaint relating to Trump's conversation with Zelenskiy.

Of the phone call summary, the administration said it "is not a verbatim transcript of a conversation" and merely records the "notes and recollections" of White House staff.

Twitter was filled with comments from leaders of the two major political parties on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York, asked: "Does anyone think President @realDonaldTrump's conversation was in the national interest? Or was it in the president's personal, political interest?"

U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, posted: "How is it OK for Vice President Biden or Democrat senators to threaten aid to Ukraine but somehow impeachable for a president to allegedly do so?"

The House voted 421-0 on Wednesday for a resolution calling on Trump to release the whistleblower complaint to Congress.

The whistleblower was concerned that Trump was pressuring a foreign leader to take an official action that would help his 2020 reelection campaign, according to a legal memo released by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Justice Department officials concluded last week that Trump's conduct on the call did not amount to a criminal violation of campaign finance, said a senior Justice Department official.

Stanley Renshon, a political scientist at City University of New York, said Trump now has evidence his complaint that "they are out to get me" has substance. "The question on the table now is whether Trump can convince voters that this has been the Democrats' purpose since he was elected," Renshon said.

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