Kudlow defends Trump's Ukraine call: 'Look, it was a congratulatory call, corruption came up'


White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s July call with the Ukrainian president at the heart of Democrats’ ongoing probe is not grounds for impeachment.

In an interview with CNBC, the National Economic Council director and former CNBC contributor said that he read the summary of the call released by the White House more than a dozen times and didn’t see “anything remotely that would constitute some kind of impeachable offense.”

“Look, it was a congratulatory call, corruption came up,” Kudlow said.

Read: Summary of President Trump’s call with Ukraine leader about Joe Biden

Democrats have zeroed in on the call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine as part of their inquiry into whether the president abused the power of his office. The call, in which Trump congratulated Zelensky on his April election, took place while nearly $400 million in badly needed military aid appropriated by Congress to assist Ukraine in fending off Russia was being held up by the Trump administration.

Trump used the call to urge Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s potential 2020 rivals, and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while Biden was in office.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General [William Barr] would be great,” Trump said on the call, according to the summary.

There’s no evidence that Hunter Biden was ever under investigation in Ukraine or that his father’s actions in the country provided him any legal benefit.

Kudlow said that he believed the call was about cleaning up corruption in Ukraine, rather than boosting the president’s electoral odds.

“I think President Trump was saying, why don’t you help clean up the last, 2016, 2015, 2014, I don’t think the president was aiming at 2020,” Kudlow said Thursday.

Kudlow also said that the call was consistent with the president’s longstanding focus on reducing U.S. assistance to European allies.

“For three years or so, President Trump has said Europe must help the United States with respect to NATO and other related military assistance. So what the president was doing, and it’s clear in that transcript, is he’s saying: ‘I want to go back, protect taxpayers, and then let’s see if we can get your assistance going,’ which is ultimately what happened.”

Trump mentioned on the call that the U.S. spent more in Ukraine than countries in Europe, telling Zelensky that “Germany does almost nothing for you.”

After Zelensky said he agreed, Trump said he “would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”

Trump then asked Zelensky for his assistance in investigating the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as well as Hunter Biden. After Zelensky said he would do so, he and Trump spoke about arranging a meeting in Washington.

In September, nearly all of the stalled aid to Ukraine was released to the country following a bipartisan pressure campaign on the president.

In the CNBC interview, anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin also pressed Kudlow on the role of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who has served as Trump’s point person in pursuing a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens.

Kudlow said he could not comment on Giuliani’s actions. 

“I don’t want to explain it. I’m not acquainted with all these machinations. It’s out of my lane and probably above my paygrade,” Kudlow said. “All I’m saying is when we released the transcript we were transparent,” Kudlow added. “There was never any quid pro quo.”

On Thursday, Gordan Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union was expected to testify to House investigators that Trump delegated Ukraine policy to Giuliani, whose agenda “might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign.”


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