Trump impeachment: White House 'can't find any record' of call which president insists exonerates him

Tom Embury-Dennis

 

The White House reportedly has no record of a phone call Donald Trump claims exonerates him over a scandal which is threatening to bring down his presidency.

The US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified to congress earlier this month that Mr Trump had made clear to him in the call that there was “no quid pro quo” with Ukraine.

The alleged conversation came on 9 September, days after it publicly emerged the White House was quietly withholding almost $400m (£310m) in security aid from Kiev.

A number of US officials subsequently testified of a link between the money and Mr Trump’s desire for the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his family.

“This is Ambassador Sondland speaking to me,” Mr Trump told reporters outside the White House last week, while reading notes of Mr Sondland’s testimony in the House impeachment inquiry.

“Here’s my response that he just gave: ‘I want nothing ... I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo.’”

He also claimed on Twitter the “Impeachment Witch Hunt” was “over” and again quoted Mr Sondland’s recollection of the conversation.

But no other evidence has emerged regarding the call, which would have occurred before dawn in Washington DC.

According to The Washington Post, which cited an unnamed administration official, the White House has located no record of the conversation in its switchboard logs, though Mr Trump may have used a personal mobile.

In an earlier alleged call with Mr Sondland, however, Mr Trump is said to have asked the ambassador whether Mr Zelensky would announce a probe into the Bidens.

David Holmes, a staffer at the US embassy in Ukraine, told the impeachment inquiry he had been with Mr Sondland when he spoke with Mr Trump by phone from a Kiev restaurant, just one day after an infamous 25 July call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky.

Miming Mr Sondland’s behaviour on the call, Mr Holmes said he was able to overhear the “loud and recognisable” Mr Trump.

He “does not give an ‘expletive’ about Ukraine,” Mr Sondland said after that phone conversation, according to Mr Holmes. He only cares about the “big stuff … like the Biden investigation”.

Mr Trump’s claim the 9 September call and the subsequent release of the $400m to Ukraine exonerates him of a quid pro quo is also undermined by the timing.

Both events came after Mr Trump was apparently briefed by White House lawyers about a whistleblower complaint into his dealings with Ukraine and the emergence of news reports about the withholding of the aid.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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