White House releases memo of April call with Ukraine's Zelenskyy

Release of the call summary comes as the second public hearing of the Trump impeachment inquiry gets under way.

    Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]
    Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

    The White House on Friday released a summary of an April phone call in which President Donald Trump congratulated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his election win.

    Trump had said repeatedly that Democrats wanted details of his April 21 call with Zelenskyy, but it has never been a focus of the Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry of Trump on Capitol Hill.

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    A separate call between the two leaders on July 25 sparked the impeachment inquiry. Democrats have said Trump abused the power of his office by pressing Zelenskyy to investigate a former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

    They have also accused him of withholding aid to Ukraine to pressure Zelenskyy into launching an investigation. Trump has denied the accusation.

    Trump, in the April call, invited Zelenskyy to the White House.

    "We'll have a lot of things to talk about, but we're with you all the way," he said according to the memo.

    Yovanovitch public testimony
    Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify to the House Intelligence Committee [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

    The release of the call summary came as the second public hearing of the impeachment inquiry got under way with the testimony of former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

    The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, read from the summary of the April call at the opening of the hearing. 

    The panel's chairman, Democrat Adam Schiff, thanked Trump for releasing the memo, but demanded that he release other documents requested by the inquiry. 

    'Campaign of disinformation'

    Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled by Trump, told the House Intelligence Committee she had "no agenda other than to pursue our state foreign policy goals". 

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    Yovanovitch was removed from her post as ambassador to Kyiv in May after coming under attack by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, at a time when he was working to persuade Ukraine to carry out two investigations that would benefit the Republican president politically.

    Giuliani was trying to engineer Ukrainian investigations of the Bidens, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

    On Friday, Yovanovitch testified Friday that she was the victim of "a campaign of disinformation" that used "unofficial back channels" leading to her removal from Ukraine.

    "I do not understand Mr Giuliani's motives for attacking me, nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believed the allegations he spread about me," Yovanovitch told the hearing.

    Yovanovitch impeachment
    Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, seated right, and her lawyer, Lawrence Robbins, arrive to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

    Trump called Yovanovitch "bad news" in the July 25 phone call to Zelenskyy and added that "she's going to go through some things", according to a White House summary of the 25 call. Zelenskyy told Trump: "I agree with you 100 percent" that she was a "bad ambassador".

    Trump's attacks on Yovanovitch continued on Friday, with him tweeting that "everywhere" Yovanovitch went "turned bad".

    Asked about the tweet during the hearing, Yovanovitch disputed Trump's claim and said the attacks are very intimidating.

    In her private testimony to politicians, Yovanovitch also described how Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, had urged her to use Twitter to express support for Trump to save her job. "He said, you know, you need to go big or go home. You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the president," she said.

    Three more public hearings are scheduled for next week.

    The hearings may pave the way for the Democratic-led House to approve articles of impeachment - formal charges - against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump's removal.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies