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Whistleblower Complaint Focuses On Trump's Request To Ukraine's President


President Trump and Ukraine - Robert Mueller didn't indict anyone for conspiring with a foreign power - Russia - to influence the 2016 election. But now President Trump is facing questions about whether he sought help overseas for his 2020 campaign. A whistleblower in the intelligence community has filed a complaint reportedly prompted by a phone conversation between Trump and the president of Ukraine.

One of the reporters who's been digging into this story is Dustin Volz of The Wall Street Journal, who joins us in our studio. Thanks so much for coming in.

DUSTIN VOLZ: Good to be here. Thank you.

SIMON: And let's begin with what you've learned about - I guess it was the president's phone call in July to Ukraine's new president, Zelensky.

VOLZ: That's correct. So we reported yesterday on Friday that President Trump had a phone call in July, sort of a congratulatory call in many ways. But during that, he told the new president of Ukraine - we're told about eight times - to look into the Biden family amid sort of ongoing allegations, unfounded, that there are some sort of corruption concerns there with the 2020 candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served as a board - on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

SIMON: I - let's repeat. You averred to it. Several U.S. news outlets - news outlets in the U.S. have investigated these allegations and found no evidence. So eight times, according to your information, the president pressed them.

VOLZ: About eight times.

SIMON: Yeah. The president, of course, was asked about this yesterday. He didn't talk about what he talked about with President Zelensky, but he really did repeat that somebody ought to investigate Joe Biden. Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, has admitted to asking Ukraine to investigate the Biden family. Now explain to us why this poses a problem.

VOLZ: Yeah. Mr. Giuliani, who is Trump's personal lawyer, is a key figure here because we're told that the - President Trump said to the Ukrainian president, essentially, you should talk to Giuliani about these issues concerning the Biden family. And that he can sort of - he knows a lot about it. And he's someone that you should be consulting with on this.

Sort of - while these calls are happening - or while this call happened in July between the president, Giuliani had actually been saying for months publicly that this is an area of concern for him and something that he's been looking into about the Biden's dealings in Ukraine. And so the call between our - President Trump and the Ukrainian president was sort of a - asked to talk to his personal lawyer Giuliani further about the matter.

SIMON: Now all of this - we should explain the background. It came at a time in July. The president was holding up $250 million in aid to Ukraine. Now, does your reporting suggest the president was offering what we would call a quid pro quo? Or is that simply implied?

VOLZ: Our sources are telling us that there was no explicit quid pro quo on this, that it was merely the president saying, you should talk to my personal lawyer and look into this further. But there was no mention of the military and intelligence aid that was being held up.

And Giuliani also has said that he was not even aware that there was aids to be held up and that he, in his conversations separately with top aides of the Ukrainian president, also did not bring that up. So currently, we're not hearing that there was anything like that. But...

SIMON: But President Zelensky would certainly know there was $250 million in aid.

VOLZ: Certainly the new president in Ukraine, President Zelensky, would be aware of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid that had been withheld and only very recently released to the country.

SIMON: I mean, this is sounding very - forgive me - Sopranos-like, in a way, isn't it?

VOLZ: (Laughter).

SIMON: Nice, little country you got here. And if you want $250 million in aid...

VOLZ: I must confess. I never watched "The Sopranos." But I...

SIMON: All right.

VOLZ: ...I will say...

SIMON: My generation.

VOLZ: (Laughter) This is - you know, the past two years have, of course, been dominated by the Russia investigation, the Mueller probe. And that was centered on the idea of foreign influence in the 2016 election from Russia. And now we have, you know, what appears to be a conversation between President Trump and the president of Russia's neighbor Ukraine talking about looking into a political opponent, Joe Biden, and his son. And so this does raise questions, again, about foreign interference and what the president is inviting or doing heading into the 2020 campaign.

SIMON: If we can get a yes-or-no question, have you confirmed that this is the subject of the whistleblower's complaint?

VOLZ: We have not. We are aware that the complaint is between - concerns conversations between the president, President Trump, and a foreign leader. The Ukraine connection has been reported by The Washington Post. That is not something that we have confirmed.

SIMON: Dustin Volz of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

VOLZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.