Ukrainian president says there was “no blackmail” in call with Trump

Whistleblower memo on Trump’s Ukraine call

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there was “no blackmail” in a phone call with President Donald Trump that helped spark an impeachment inquiry.  Zelensky said at a “marathon” press conference in Ukraine’s capital on Thursday that he didn’t know at the time of the call that the U.S. had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. 

“We didn’t speak about it,” he said. “There was no blackmail.”

Mr. Trump asked Zelensky during the call to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, according to a rough White House transcript. Congressional Democrats believe Mr. Trump was holding up the military aid to use as leverage to pressure Ukraine and advance his domestic political interests before next year’s U.S. presidential election. 

Mr. Trump later said the military aid was frozen because of concerns about corruption in Ukraine, but the move prompted congressional outcry and the money was released in September.

CBS News’ Seth Doane asked Zelensky if if he or anyone in his administration did anything to have the aid unfrozen. Zelensky said they used their diplomatic options, but did not elaborate.  

The July call is central to the impeachment inquiry, and it embarrassed Zelensky because it showed him as eager to please Mr. Trump and critical of European partners whose support he needs to strengthen Ukraine’s economy and to end the conflict with Russia. Zelensky is trying to save his reputation and distance himself from the U.S. political drama. 

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