Speed Reads

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Does it matter if Trump explicitly told Ukraine: no Biden investigation, no military aid?

In comments to reporters at the United Nations on Monday, President Trump flip-flopped on whether he would release a transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, insisted he had not pressured Zelensky to investigate leading 2020 Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and appeared to deny making such an investigation a prerequisite for releasing nearly $400 million in approved military aid. "I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I'm not going to give you aid," Trump said. "I wouldn't do that."

"Yeah, you wouldn't have to do that, either," Anderson Cooper responded on CNN Monday night. "It certainly is possible he made no explicit threat about withholding aid. Again, did he really need to spell it out? Especially with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who for weeks has been meeting with Ukrainian officials, pressuring Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens — which is, of course, not normal, not for any president in any party, ever." Cooper advised viewers to focus on what Trump has already admitted to publicly.

On MSNBC Monday evening, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) laughed at Trump's insistence he was interested in general "corruption" in Ukraine, rather than trying to damage Biden. "The quid pro quo really doesn't matter here — obviously that would elevate people's concern — but there is an implicit threat in every single conversation an American president has with another world leader, asking them to do something — especially with a country like Ukraine that is so dependent on U.S. support," he said. "So even if he didn't say explicitly, 'If you don't investigate the Bidens on this B.S. charge I'm making, you're not going to get the aid,' of course Zelensky would consider that if he didn't accede to the president's direct personal request to him, that there would be consequences."

That appears to be the message Zelensky took from the July call, in which Trump reportedly brought up investigating the Bidens eight different times, Murphy said.

When Murphy visited Kiev in early September, Zelensky "directly" expressed concerns that "the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence" of his unwillingness to open an investigation into the Bidens, he told The Washington Post. Watch Murphy recap that meeting below. Peter Weber