WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was noncommittal Monday when asked if President Trump plans to release a transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is central to an explosive whistleblower complaint, saying “we’ll see what happens.”
Trump appeared to confirm Sunday that he mentioned former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter in the July 25 call and said he would “love to” release a transcript to counter reporting that he had inappropriately asked a foreign government to investigate one of his 2020 political rivals.
Appearing on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” Grisham wouldn’t say whether Trump will follow through on making the transcript available.
“When foreign leaders come together to speak, they need to be able to speak candidly, so I do think that perhaps releasing this kind of transcript could set a bad precedent,” she said. “He’s willing to do it, I think, but there’s a lot of other people, lawyers and the such, that may have a problem with it, so we’ll see what happens.”
Trump has repeatedly raised the specter of impropriety on the part of Biden, who is now seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination and whose younger son, Hunter, was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that Trump pushed Zelensky to investigate, according to people familiar with the matter.
The call with Zelensky is part of a whistleblower complaint that acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has been unwilling to turn over to Congress, a refusal that has rankled Democrats and heightened calls for impeaching Trump.
Democrats say asking Ukraine to find damaging information on a potential 2020 rival could amount to another attempt to involve a foreign power in U.S. elections. Intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump, a claim the president denies.
Since the spring, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, has pushed the Ukrainians to investigate a gas tycoon who had Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma Holdings starting in 2014.
According to The New York Times, he was paid as much as $50,000 some months for his work. In 2016, then-Vice President Biden traveled to Ukraine to push for the firing of its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. On that trip, Biden said the United States would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees unless Shokin was removed. Biden’s push was part of a broader international effort to fight corruption in Ukraine, and Shokin had been accused of ignoring major misconduct. Shokin, at one point, led an investigation into Burisma Holdings. However, the case had been dormant before the prosecutor’s firing, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials, and the U.S. ambassador at the time publicly called for the investigation in Burisma to proceed.
In an exchange with reporters outside the White House on Sunday before departing for events in Texas and Ohio on Sunday, Trump appeared to suggest he did speak about Biden with Zelensky.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said. “And Ukraine, Ukraine’s got a lot of problems.”
Later in Houston, Trump appeared to backtrack, saying, “I don’t even want to mention it, but certainly I’d have the right to” raise Biden’s name with Zelensky. He also said he would “love” to release a transcript, though he added he would have to make a determination about how to do so.
Washington Post writers Seung Min Kim and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.