Senator Chris Murphy (D., Conn.), who traveled to Ukraine in early September, told reporters this week that he had heard "directly" from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that Zelensky felt pressured by Trump to investigate Hunter Biden's involvement with Ukrainian gas giant Burisma. But according to a tape of a briefing Murphy gave two weeks ago about his meeting with Zelensky, Murphy made no mention at all of such an allegation.
It was only 13 days after his initial briefing that Murphy emerged to say Zelensky had expressed concerns to him that the Trump administration was withholding U.S. aid to compel an investigation.
Murphy, who traveled to Ukraine and other European nations in early September with Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), has given inconsistent characterizations of his Sept. 5 meeting with Zelensky over the past two weeks, as Trump's conversations with Zelensky have drawn national and international attention. If, as Murphy says, Zelensky expressed grave concern over the administration’s actions, the Connecticut senator appears to have kept mum about it for over two weeks.
Murphy initially told news reporters in a Sept. 11 briefing that the Ukrainian president was "flummoxed" by the administration’s suspension of aid and wanted to reach a resolution to keep it flowing. Neither Zelensky nor any other official he spoke with brought up political requests from the Trump administration, he said, adding that they "didn't talk in depth" about the issue.
When news reports made public the whistleblower complaint public, Murphy called a press conference and offered a much more detailed recollection of his conversation with Zelensky.
The senator said Monday that the "entire new Ukrainian administration" including Zelensky told him they believed the United States withheld aid due to his "unwillingness to investigate the Bidens."
"Once I got on the ground there, I heard about how confused the entire new Ukrainian administration was about the nature of these demands they were getting from the Trump administration to conduct this political investigation, and that they worry that the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence for their unwillingness, at the time, to investigate the Bidens," Murphy said, adding that the concern was relayed to him "from the president directly."
Murphy did not, however, relay any of this information to reporters in the Sept. 11 briefing, where he stressed the limited nature of his conversation with Zelensky on the issue.
Contrary to his claim Monday that Zelensky felt the administration was withholding U.S. aid because of his unwillingness to investigate Hunter Biden, Murphy said Sept. 11 that Zelensky said he "didn't have a clear sense of why aid was being withheld."
Murphy said then that he had personally asked Zelensky about Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to investigate Hunter Biden and emphasized that Zelensky should rebuff any requests made outside of U.S. diplomatic channels.
"He was ready for that question, he wasn't surprised that I brought it up and his response was pretty simple: that they have no intention of getting involved in an American election," Murphy said, "but we didn’t talk in depth about the nature of the contacts and no one brought it up to us, I raised it with President Zelensky."
Johnson, who was with Murphy and Zelensky, told reporters that he told the Ukrainian president that the "primary rationale" for Trump's decision to withhold aid was lack of investment from other European countries.
"The first question President Zelensky asked was, ‘What's the deal with funding?' and because I had spoken with the president I answered that question, and I gave him as honest an answer as I could," Johnson said.
"The primary rationale [President Trump] gave me was that same idea that Europe was not stepping up to the plate to spend the money they should spend in their own backyard," Johnson explained. "He just thinks we're being played for suckers, and it irritates him."
The rough transcript of Trump's call with Zelensky released by the White House Wednesday morning substantiates Johnson's characterization of Trump's frustration.
"I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine, we spend a lot of effort and a lot of time," Trump said in the July 25 call. "Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are." He went on to encourage Zelensky to raise the issue with German chancellor Angela Merkel, among others.
The transcript also shows Trump pressing Zelensky to take calls from Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr as part of an effort to investigate Biden’s son.
Zelensky's remarks at the United Nations on Wednesday resemble Murphy's initial characterization, in which he said he had no intention of getting involved in U.S. elections.
Sitting alongside Trump after a bilateral meeting, he said, "I don't want to be involved in democratic open elections in the United States."
Murphy's office did not respond to a request for comment on his meeting with Zelensky.