Amid whistleblower reports, what’s the state of U.S.-Ukraine relations?

JUDY WOODRUFF: The explosive reports of a
whistle-blower complaint against President Trump is raising more questions than answers. Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage of this
fast-moving story. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: A mysterious whistle-blower,
and a president on defense. Today, President Trump was insistent, any
communications between him and foreign leaders are strictly above-aboard. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
I have conversations with many leaders. They’re always appropriate, always appropriate,
at the highest level, always appropriate. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Sitting next to Australia’s
prime minister in the Oval Office, he dismissed a complaint by an intelligence community whistle-blower
reportedly aimed at him. DONALD TRUMP: It’s just another political
hack job. That’s all it is. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The Washington Post and
New York Times have reported the complaint involves the president’s communications with
an unspecified foreign leader and other actions, and centers on Ukraine. It is public record that, on July 25, the
president spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That was two weeks before the whistle-blower
complaint was filed. Today, new reports surfaced that President
Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. The president wanted Hunter Biden’s dealings
with a Ukrainian gas firm investigated, in a bid to aid the Trump reelection campaign. Biden’s father, former Vice President Joe
Biden, is a potential 2020 challenger to President Trump. On CNN last night, Giuliani first denied it,
then admitted it. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: Did you to ask the Ukraine
to investigate Joe Biden? RUDY GIULIANI, Attorney for President Donald
Trump: No. Actually, I didn’t. CHRIS CUOMO: So, you did ask Ukraine to look
into Joe Biden? RUDY GIULIANI: Of course I did. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Giuliani eventually said
the president had no knowledge of his actions. But the administration has blocked access
to the whistle-blower’s complaint, setting up a standoff with Congress. In letters released Thursday, the intelligence
community inspector general called it an urgent concern related to serious or flagrant abuse
that he said should be given to lawmakers. Michael Atkinson also testified behind closed
doors before the House Intelligence Committee, but he said he was barred from revealing the
substance of the whistle-blower’s complaint. Committee chair, Democrat Adam Schiff, said
he may sue to access it. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Given the inspector general
said this is urgent, it can’t wait. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: In a statement today, House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said all of this raises — quote — “grave, urgent concerns for our
national security.” Those concerns will get an airing next week. On Wednesday, President Trump is scheduled
to meet with President Zelensky. The next day, Acting Director of National
intelligence Joseph Maguire is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Yamiche Alcindor. JUDY WOODRUFF: To provide insight on how the
Ukrainian government is factoring into all of this, I’m joined by Nina Jankowicz of the
Wilson Center, an independent nonpartisan research institute. Nina Jankowicz, welcome back to the “NewsHour.” So now we have this new information, The Wall
Street Journal reporting that President Trump repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine
to investigate Joe Biden’s son. What is the Ukrainian government saying? NINA JANKOWICZ, The Wilson Center: The Ukrainian
government has been very deft in their avoidance of this issue, which I think is intentional. They’re trying to kind of walk a thin line
of not really upsetting anyone in the Trump administration or a potential next president. And in a readout of a call — the call from
July 25, they said that President Trump discussed anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine that have
been stalling U.S.-Ukrainian relations, perhaps a nod to this scandal that has come up recently. JUDY WOODRUFF: Could be seen as a reference
to that. NINA JANKOWICZ: Mm-hmm. JUDY WOODRUFF: But what are — so, if the
government is not commenting officially, what are people around his administration saying? NINA JANKOWICZ: Well, I think anti-corruption
activists in Ukraine, which represent a very strong and vibrant portion of civil society,
are saying, you know — they are pretty bemused that Viktor Shokin, this prosecutor general
who was involved in this scandal, is being championed by Rudy Giuliani and the Trump
administration as some sort of anti-corruption crusader. Actually, he was an obstacle to anti-corruption
efforts in Ukraine, and the fact that the Trump administration is trying to paint this
as a sacking for Hunter Biden’s own protection is just not really ringing true with the Ukrainians
who are closest to the material. JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s what I wanted to
ask you about, because the president, President Trump, keeps saying the news media needs to
investigate what this prosecutor — what happened with regard to this prosecutor. And you’re saying people there don’t see there
is anything to that. NINA JANKOWICZ: Right. Right. They say that claim doesn’t hold water, that
Joe Biden asked former President Poroshenko to fire Viktor Shokin in order to protect
his son. Actually, these anti-corruption activists
are saying, by firing Viktor Shokin, Biden was almost certainly inviting more investigation
into his son, because this former prosecutor had been stonewalling anti-corruption investigations. JUDY WOODRUFF: So the plot thickens. And, meantime, Nina Jankowicz, there’s this
question of the fact that these conversations between President Trump and President Zelensky
of Ukraine were taking place around the same time the administration was about to say it
was going to deliver foreign aid to Ukraine. NINA JANKOWICZ: Right. JUDY WOODRUFF: How does that factor into all
this? NINA JANKOWICZ: Well, the delivery of military
assistance to Ukraine was one of the Ukrainian government’s top diplomatic priorities over
the past five years. As a reminder, there is a hot war on in Europe. JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. NINA JANKOWICZ: Ukraine has been resisting
Russian aggression for the past five years. And this military assistance is very much
needed and very important to Ukraine. The fact that, over the past couple of weeks,
it was frozen, for reasons unknown to the Ukrainian government, not related to any reform
efforts, seemingly out of the blue, was really seen as a shock in Kiev. JUDY WOODRUFF: So does this — what we’re
learning today and yesterday, is that — are people now putting some puzzle pieces together,
and to suggest that there’s a connection? NINA JANKOWICZ: Yes, absolutely. It seems like maybe the Trump administration
was considering withholding this aid in order to pressure the Zelensky administration into
opening or reopening this investigation into Biden and the company, the gas company, that
he was working with. And that’s extremely troubling to me, because
Ukraine is a democratic beacon for millions of people in the former Soviet space. They just had a very historic election in
the spring, in which Russians were saying, when are we going to have an election like
that? And we should be supporting this new administration,
building bridges with them, not burning it down. JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, what is the
overall impression of President Trump among Ukrainians at the high levels there? NINA JANKOWICZ: I think it’s confusion. It’s one of confusion. On the one hand, he has delivered this military
assistance package that for a long time the Ukrainian administration could not get under
President Obama. But, on the other hand, they have these crazy
mixed signals coming from the president’s personal lawyer. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s quite a story, and
we’re going to continue to follow it. And I know you’re going to continue to as
well. NINA JANKOWICZ: Absolutely. JUDY WOODRUFF: Nina Jankowicz, thank you so
much. NINA JANKOWICZ: Thanks for having me.

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