Trump Asked Ukraine For 'Favor' On Biden In Call; DOJ Says No Charges President Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to see what he could find out about former Vice President Joe Biden and his family and to be in touch with Trump's lawyer and the attorney general.
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Trump Asked Ukrainian President To Investigate Biden; DOJ Says No Charges

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Trump Asked Ukrainian President To Investigate Biden; DOJ Says No Charges

Trump Asked Ukrainian President To Investigate Biden; DOJ Says No Charges

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In that July phone call, President Trump did indeed ask his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. That's what we learned today from a memo of the call released by the White House. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been covering this story.

Welcome back to the studio.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: Let's start with this essentially rough transcript. Can you walk us through what's in there?

LUCAS: Right. This is a - it's a five-page memo, documents roughly a 30-minute conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in July. It's not a verbatim transcript. It is important to say that it's based on notes and recollections of National Security Council staff who listened in and memorialize. The call starts with the usual courtesies. Trump then tells Zelenskiy that the U.S. does a lot for Ukraine, both in terms of money, time, effort, and he says that the U.S. has been very good to the country. The Ukrainian president then says, quote, "we are almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes." Javelins are anti-tank missiles. Remember; there is a conflict in Ukraine right now. The next words out of Trump's mouth were these - quote, "I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot."

CORNISH: So it's a change of topic there.

LUCAS: Change of topic - Trump then talks about a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton's email server being in Ukraine and the need for Zelenskiy to investigate that. And a bit later, he brings up his allegations about Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

CORNISH: This is at the center of this political crisis, essentially. What does Trump say allegedly in this call about Biden?

LUCAS: Well, he tells the Ukrainian president that there are a lot of questions about the Bidens in Ukraine. Trump has alleged that when Biden was vice president, he improperly pushed Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who had investigated a company that Biden's son sat on the board of. Now, it's important to say that there is no evidence to suggest that the Bidens did anything illegal. In this call, Trump urges Zelenskiy to look into it. And he tells him to work on it with Attorney General William Barr and Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. He says he'll have both of them give Zelenskiy a call.

CORNISH: And I said alleged earlier, but we do know the president has confirmed that he made some of the comments in this call. How unusual is it to have the president instructing a foreign leader to work with the U.S. attorney general - and his private attorney - on investigating what is going to be a political rival?

LUCAS: It is highly unusual. Some would even say that it's improper. The Justice Department does say that the attorney general didn't know of this phone call with Zelenskiy. It says that Barr has not spoken with President Trump about anything related to Biden or his son. And it also says that Barr has not communicated with Ukraine about Biden or anything else. But we do know that Giuliani has been talking to the Ukrainians about this exact matter. Giuliani told me that he met with a close adviser to the Ukrainian president in early August in Spain. Giuliani says that he gave him information that he had collected on the Bidens. He told the Ukrainian that he thought it should be fully investigated. Giuliani says he didn't dictate what the conclusion of this investigation should be, but he did indeed urge Ukraine to dig into this very Biden matter.

CORNISH: This all started with a whistleblower report to the intelligence community inspector general. And I understand the Justice Department has weighed in, right? They released a document related to this today. What did we learn?

LUCAS: Well, we learned that the inspector general referred this complaint to the Justice Department about this call as a possible campaign finance violation. Senior Justice Department officials today said that career prosecutors looked into it. They got a copy of the transcript that we saw today. They determined that there was not evidence to open a criminal investigation. In part, officials say that in order to qualify as a campaign finance violation, it has to be something of value. And a foreign power investigating a political rival is not something you can quantify the value of.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas.

Thanks for your reporting.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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