“I thought we won. I thought it was dead. It was dead,” he said, recalling Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which closed without Trump facing any charges that he had obstructed justice or colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.
Read: Trump is discovering new powers
But a new peril of his own making has emerged. As Trump led a meeting today devoted to conditions in Venezuela, the White House released internal notes of his phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart in July in which he called for an investigation into the 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner, Joe Biden.
The notes show that Trump brought up Biden unprompted. He then made reference to what he and his outside lawyer Rudy Giuliani have sought to spotlight in the run-up to the 2020 election: Biden’s efforts to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor, and his son Hunter Biden’s work with a Ukrainian energy company. Biden had wanted the prosecutor dismissed as part of a broader push against corruption in Ukraine, and no evidence has emerged of any wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said in his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General [William] Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”
Democrats recoiled at the conversation. Representative Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Trump sounded like a “mob boss” sending a message that was unmistakably “a shakedown.”
At the news conference, Trump said he had done nothing wrong and that he’d applied “no pressure” to Zelensky. Trotting out lines he used to discredit the Mueller investigation, he called the new probe “a hoax.” Earlier in the day, Trump sat side by side with Zelensky at a bilateral meeting. What was supposed to be a routine photo opportunity turned into a joint news conference of sorts. Speaking in English, the Ukrainian leader, a onetime comedian and actor, said that he hadn’t felt pressured by Trump to look into the Biden family.
“It was normal; we spoke about many things,” Zelensky said. “So I think, and you read, that nobody pushed me.”
Trump jumped in: “In other words, no pressure.” Yet seconds later, he signaled that he still wanted Zelensky to probe the Biden family. “I want him to do whatever he can,” Trump told reporters.
Republicans are largely standing by Trump, as my colleague Elaina Plott has reported. If the House votes to impeach him, the Republican-controlled Senate would conduct a trial, with a two-thirds vote needed to convict. Only minor fissures in the GOP ranks have emerged so far. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, in an appearance today at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., said he had read the White House’s rough notes on the Trump-Zelensky call and found them “deeply troubling.” Yet another Republican senator I talked with today, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, told me that his GOP colleagues are “giddy” and see “nothing incriminating” in the notes.