Zelensky responds to Trump's claims: 'It's not true that Ukraine is a corrupt country'

Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY

In his first major interview since President Donald Trump was acquitted of two impeachment articles earlier this month, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed back on Trump's claims that Ukraine was corrupt and said he was willing to talk with the president again. 

During an interview at the Munich Security Conference, Zelensky told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Trump's claims of widespread corruption in Ukraine were "not true." 

"That's not true," Zelensky said, when Amanpour read him comments from an interview Trump gave last November with "Fox and Friends" where he called Ukraine the "third-most corrupt country" in the world.  

"When I had a meeting with President Trump, and he said that in previous years [Ukraine] was such a corrupt country, I told him and was very open with him, I told him that we fight with corruption, we fight each day," Zelensky said. 

Zelensky added he wanted to "change this image" of Ukraine as a "corrupt country" because "it's not true." 

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Democrats allege Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to open politically motivated investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden by withholding military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine. The second impeachment charge, obstruction of Congress, stemmed from allegations Trump obstructed Congress by stonewalling congressional investigations. 

Trump has repeatedly called Ukraine "corrupt" despite Zelensky's previous, forceful denials. 

During the impeachment inquiry, special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker told lawmakers that behind closed doors Trump said "Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of 'terrible people.'" 

During the impeachment trial, Trump's attorneys and Senate Republicans had defended his conduct by citing what Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow called the president's concerns about the "issue of corruption in Ukraine."

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Zelensky, on the other hand, has said a focus on impeachment and corruption draws attention to problems in Ukraine. 

In a December 2019 interview with TIME, Zelensky said Trump's insistence Ukraine was corrupt was not a helpful "signal" from America to the world. 

"The United States of America is a signal, for the world, for everyone. When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals," he told the magazine.

"It’s not that those things don’t exist. They do. All branches of government were corrupted over many years, and we are working to clean that up. But that signal from them is very important," Zelensky said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gloated over the focus on problems in Ukraine.  

“Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore," Putin said at a November 2019 economic forum in Moscow, according to the Associated Press. "Now they’re accusing Ukraine," he said, referring to a debunked conspiracy theory some Republicans floated to defend Trump during the impeachment trial.

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Despite the controversy surrounding a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky, the Ukraine president told CNN he still wanted to talk with Trump. 

Ukraine has a "very good relationship with the US," Zelensky said, later adding, "If this way will help Ukraine, I am ready for the next call with Mr. Trump." 

In his remarks at the Munich Security Conference, Zelensky also extended an invitation to Trump to visit Kiev, the Associated Press reported. 

Contributing: Deidre Shesgreen

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Zelensky: Donald Trump's claims of Ukrainian corruption are 'not true'