Justice Dept. Rejected Investigating Trump-Ukraine Call After Scant Examination
Justice Department officials opted against investigating President Donald Trump’s July phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart after less than a month of examining the matter, The Washington Post reported in September.
Despite concerns over the phone call, during which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” involving an investigation of his potential political rival, the DOJ’s criminal division “determined there was not sufficient cause to even launch an investigation, senior Justice Department officials said.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said at the time that “there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted,” with senior department officials saying it was not possible to “quantify” the value of what the president was requesting.
The contents of Trump’s call with Zelensky came to light when an intelligence community whistleblower filed a complaint with the inspector general, who characterized the matter as an “urgent” concern and determined it should be forwarded to Congress.
But the acting director of national intelligence contacted the Justice Department for advice on handling the matter. Steven Engel, head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, determined the complaint did not warrant turning over to congressional committees, indicating the matter would be more properly handled by the DOJ, The Post reported.
Brian Benczkowski, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, made the final decision that Trump’s phone call did not provide enough evidence to proceed with a campaign finance violation, and senior department officials said career prosecutors agreed with the verdict.
Some experts disagreed with the DOJ’s finding that Trump’s request for investigations could not be quantified. Richard Hasen, a University of California at Irvine law professor specializing in election law, told The Post that the department’s explanation was “laughable.”
“You’re talking about information on a potential rival that could be used in a presidential campaign, a presidential campaign which likely would run into the billions of dollars,” Hasen said. “I don’t think there’s any question that a prosecutor could go forward with the theory.”
The matter was eventually brought to the attention of the House Intelligence Committee and Democrats launched an impeachment investigation — which does not require that criminal activity be proved in seeking to remove the president for abuse of power.
Witness testimony has since proved damaging to Trump and others in his administration as accounts of the president’s Ukraine dealings reveal a clear quid pro quo.