North Dakota’s Republican senators rose to President Donald Trump’s defense on Friday, despite growing momentum behind an impeachment inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine.
The president has been beleaguered for weeks by scrutiny into his relationship with the eastern European country. A rough White House transcript released Sept. 25 showed Trump asking Ukraine’s president to pursue multiple investigations — including into the Biden family’s local business interests — and included discussion of American aid to Ukraine.
Since then, Trump has made a public call for both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens, claiming he is merely asking for help investigating corruption, not marshaling foreign aid against a political opponent — despite Biden ranking among his most prominent Democratic rivals.
Significantly, text messages earlier this year among administration officials — which were provided to Democratic-led House committees and released this past week — show an apparent belief by one official that Trump was withholding aid from Ukraine until the country committed to concessions that would boost his campaign.
Recent weeks have drawn sharp criticism of the president — not only elected Democrats, but also from the chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, who pointedly reminded followers on Twitter that it’s illegal to “solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”
The Herald asked members of North Dakota and Minnesota’s federal delegations for their latest comments on both the text messages and Trump’s requests to Ukraine and China. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both North Dakota Republicans, drew attention to a specific moment in the text messages released this past week, in which one official notes that “the president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” telling a fellow diplomat that aid to Ukraine was withheld as Trump “is trying to evaluate” Ukraine’s commitment to “transparency and reforms” that the new Ukranian president campaigned on.
“The text messages prove there is not and never was a quid pro quo,” reads the entirety of the statement provided by the office of Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., on the matter.
“The president has provided transparency by releasing the transcript of his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky,” Hoeven said in a statement provided by his office, “and U.S. ambassador to the EU Sondland, in (released) text messages, said that President Trump did not want any quid pro quo.”
The office of Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., was unable to provide a statement prior to the Herald’s deadline for this report. The office of Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment.
Minnesota’s two Democratic senators have been considerably more critical. Officials with Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign referred the Herald to remarks the senator made on CNN on Thursday evening. She said the president “is not following the law and he’s basically asking foreign leaders to get him dirt on a political opponent, which is not legal.”
Sen. Tina Smith’s office referred the Herald to a Sept. 24 statement outlining her support for the House “beginning impeachment proceedings.”
“Amid reports that the president asked or even actively pressured Ukraine, a foreign government, to interfere in our country’s democracy by undermining a political opponent, we must fully and fairly open a process to lay out all the facts,” Smith said.