Trump Sits Down With Ukraine's President To Talk About July Phone Call

Sep 25, 2019
Originally published on September 25, 2019 6:54 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now earlier this afternoon, the president sat down with the foreign leader on that call, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe was watching, and she's here with more.

Welcome back to the studio.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hey.

CORNISH: Now it was definitely considered an extraordinary moment to have the two people at the center of this firestorm talking about this call. What did they have to say?

RASCOE: So the biggest moment came really when Ukraine's president was asked whether he felt pressure from President Trump during that phone call in July. He said he didn't want to get involved in a U.S. election, but here's a bit more from him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: Sure that we had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I - so I think - and you read it - that nobody push it - pushed me. Yes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In other words, no pressure.

RASCOE: So there you have Trump adding to Zelenskiy's words, saying no pressure, basically attempting to drive the conversation in that moment. But what was really striking between Trump and Zelenskiy was the dynamic between them. Zelenskiy is a former comedian. And usually in these meetings, they can be pretty stiff. And Trump is the one that's unpredictable. But in this one, you had Zelenskiy cracking jokes and saying it was better to meet on TV than by phone. And then he was also kind of putting Trump on the spot, saying are you going to come to the Ukraine and joking that he hadn't received his invitation to D.C.

CORNISH: We have today heard from the president and his defenders. What's been the overriding message about the account that was released today? How are they characterizing it?

RASCOE: So they're basically saying that this boils down to this idea that there was no explicit demand for an investigation of Biden in exchange for military aid and that it wasn't inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate potential corruption. That said, Democrats are saying that there didn't need to be an explicit demand, and that we know that aide was held up. And Trump has said that he directed that.

Trump also seems to be contending now that it's actually Biden and some Democrats who are not being transparent about their dealings with Ukraine. He talked about this at his press conference this afternoon without offering any evidence of wrongdoing. But this is a pattern with Trump, where he takes any accusation that's lodged against him and kind of turns it around against his opponents.

CORNISH: We also heard in the open of this segment South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. He was standing by the president. Is that reflective of the GOP response more generally?

RASCOE: Yeah, basically. They have stood by Trump, and they've defended his actions. And this support that he's getting was really coordinated by the White House. Twelve Republican lawmakers went to the White House this morning to get a preview of that memo describing the call. And that allowed them to get on the same page and just decide how to respond. Publicly, most of them have stuck to those arguments that I outlined from the White House. But one Republican, Mitt Romney, who has obviously been very critical of the president in the past, did raise some concern. Here's what Romney had to say today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITT ROMNEY: If the president of the United States asks or presses the leader of a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that's troubling.

RASCOE: But other than Romney, though, the support's really sticking. And Trump made a point of retweeting at least eight lawmakers who were basically talking out in support of President Trump.

CORNISH: Can you tell us what the next steps are?

RASCOE: So the whistleblower complaint that set off this chain of events is - has been reviewed by some lawmakers. It hasn't been made public yet. It's not clear when or if that will happen. But we know that Democrats are going to continue with this inquiry into the military aid, into what happened with Ukraine. So that inquiry will pick up speed. What will likely be slowing down is any legislative action - so if you're talking about gun control or prescription drugs or anything like that - because it's going to be very hard to get the president and Democrats in Congress on the same page to get a law passed.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Thank you.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.