WASHINGTON – Republicans appear to be sticking by President Donald Trump despite concerns he sought foreign help to discredit Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
The latest controversy riling up the White House revolves around Trump's contacts with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, a whistleblower complaint at a U.S. intelligence agency and whether Trump conditioned the granting military aid to Ukraine on an investigation into the former Vice President's son, Hunter Biden.
Trump has acknowledged bringing up Biden, the former vice president and leading Democratic 2020 presidential contender, in a July phone call with Zelensky, but he denied offering the aid in exchange for an investigation into Biden.
"I didn't do it," Trump told reporters on Monday in New York at the United Nations General Assembly.
Many Senate Republicans on Monday resisted saying too much about the controversy, dodging questions by reporters and stressing that none of the information about the complaint or the president's conversations has been verified. But others downplayed the issue, saying this was another attempt by Democrats to amplify impeachment efforts. Some also repeated comments that the president himself has made that Biden should be investigated and that's what the media should be focusing on.
"What I really see happening is that Democrats are winding up the outrage machine again," said Sen. John Barrasso, the third highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, adding it's all about "beating the impeachment drum."
"They didn't get what they wanted out of the Mueller investigation," said Barrasso, R-Wyo. "They're hoping they have something here. I just don't see it."
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for choosing to "politicize this issue." He said their actions are "circumventing the established procedures and protocols that exist so the committees can pursue sensitive matters in the appropriate, deliberate, bipartisan manner."
McConnell also noted that he personally talked with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State to "ensure that Ukraine received this much-needed assistance."
Sen. Ron Johnson met with Zelensky in Ukraine earlier this month and said before his visit, he talked with Trump on the phone. Johnson said he hoped he could convince Trump to approve of the aid so he could relay that message in person to Zelensky. Trump declined.
"The rationale that he gave [me] is the concern about corruption in Ukraine, which is what I relayed to President Zelensky, and they all acknowledge it. It's why he won the election. They're trying to rid the country of corruption," Johnson said, adding Trump "did not mention anything about Joe Biden or anything" during their phone call.
Johnson said he didn't believe the whistleblower complaint should be made available to Congress, nor should a transcript of Trump's call with Zelensky. "It's a very dangerous precedent" to start, he said of releasing the call and said it does not appear the complaint is "something necessarily has to have."
Republicans were divided over whether those materials should be made available to Congress.
Several Republicans expressed unease with the reports about Trump's conversation with Zelensky and stressed the need for more information. Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said it would be "very serious" if Trump demanded an investigation into Biden and stressed that Congress needs more information on what happened.
Sen. Susan Murkowski, R-Alaska, also said while there aren't facts showing Trump requested an investigation into Biden in exchange for the aid, "it's not OK to make a request that’s a quid-pro-quo." She said it would be "helpful" having a transcript of the president's call and more information on the whistleblower complaint from the inspector general of the intelligence community.
Both the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and the inspector general Michael Atkinson could appear this week before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., echoed concerns of president and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that Biden's conduct should be looked into.
"I think one, we have to get more information about what the President said. And also, we have to get an understanding of exactly what Biden did," Scott said.
The New York Times reported in May that Biden, while in office in 2016, threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Ukraine reduced its corruption. Part of that demand called for removing the country's top prosecutor, who was investigating the oligarch behind an energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board.
The prosecutor was accused by U.S. officials of ignoring corruption in his own office. The Ukrainian Parliament eventually voted him out. But Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine's current prosecutor, told Bloomberg News Service in May that he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son.
Contributing: Bart Jansen and John Fritze
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump-Ukraine controversy: Republicans stick by president, call for information