Trump claims mistreatment as Democrats open impeachment probe

Washington (AFP) –

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President Donald Trump scrambled to defend his presidency Wednesday one day after Democrats in Congress launched a formal impeachment inquiry, accusing him of betraying the country to get dirt from Ukraine on political rival Joe Biden.

Trump hit Twitter with a declaration that Democrats are acting on sheer hatred and treating him worse than any other US leader.

But he was also expected to turn over to Congress the record of his July phone call with Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky in which he allegedly pressed for Kiev to open a corruption probe into Biden, the leading candidate to challenge Trump in the 2020 election.

Democrats have already made clear that will not be enough to satisfy their investigation into whether the US leader broke the law, which could potentially result in him being formally charged in the House of Representatives and put on trial in the Senate.

"There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have," Trump declared Wednesday.

"The Democrats are frozen with hatred and fear. They get nothing done. This should never be allowed to happen to another President. Witch Hunt!," Trump tweeted.

- White House stunned -

The White House was stunned on Tuesday when top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi suddenly abandoned months of resistance and announced the impeachment investigation.

Only two presidents in US history have been impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, deeply tarring both of their historical legacies.

Outside of Twitter, Trump has yet to publically address the threat of impeachment.

In New York for the annual UN General Assembly, he was to meet with Zelensky on Wednesday afternoon and then give a solo press conference in the evening.

Pelosi declared the formal investigation Tuesday 11 days after the news that an anonymous US intelligence official had filed a formal whistleblower complaint on Trump's alleged double-dealing with Ukraine, tying aid to the country for dirt on Biden.

Until Tuesday, the White House had blocked the legally required release of the whistleblower complaint to Congress' intelligence committees, as well as the transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky.

- Voters oppose impeachment -

Pelosi had resisted pressure from the party rank and file for impeachment, preferring to focus their energies on the presidential and congressional election next year as the public has shown little taste for a full-blown probe in Congress of Trump.

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday said that only 37 percent of voters support impeaching Trump while 57 percent oppose, even if more than half disapprove of the US leader's performance.

But Pelosi said there was now strong evidence of Trump's wrongdoing.

"The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable facts of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections," she said.

- Transcript of Ukraine call -

The first focus in the investigation will be on the "transcript" of the Trump-Zelensky call to be released Wednesday.

Trump has already admitted he spoke with the Ukraine leader about Biden, whose son had been involved with a controversial Ukraine businessman, though the son has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Trump pressed the Biden issue as many as eight times in the call.

Trump denies impropriety, and claims he made a link between hundreds of millions of dollars of frozen aid for Ukraine and a Biden probe by Kiev.

Early Wednesday, Trump suggested the transcript will support him.

"Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President? They should, a perfect call - got them by surprise!" he tweeted.

But experts say the White House "transcript" of a call might not be complete or verbatim.

Larry Pfeiffer, former senior director of the White House situation room, said calls between the president and foreign leaders are generally not recorded.

Instead, national security and State Department staff listen and take notes of what was said.

Their notes are reviewed and turned into a "memorandum of conversation" or MEMCON, said

"This MEMCON can vary greatly from a lightly edited full transcript to a vaguely worded summary of the call," he said.