President Trump on Wednesday adamantly denied that he pressured Ukraine to investigate one of his leading Democratic rivals despite the newly released record of a call in which he asked the country’s president to look into Democrats as “a favor” to him.
Mr. Trump received some backing from the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who by chance met with Mr. Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at the same time the House was gearing up for impeachment proceedings stemming from the interaction between the two leaders.
Sitting side by side with Mr. Trump in their first face-to-face meeting, Mr. Zelensky told reporters that he wanted to stay out of United States politics but provided a benign interpretation of the July 25 call in which Mr. Trump asked him to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and any Ukrainian ties to Democrats during the 2016 campaign.
“We had, I think, a good phone call,” Mr. Zelensky said. “It was normal, we spoke about many things. So, I think you read it that nobody pushed it, pushed me.”
“In other words, no pressure,” Mr. Trump chimed in. “And by the way, you know there was no pressure.”
That call has become the subject of enormous interest in Washington, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that the House was opening a formal impeachment inquiry into whether Mr. Trump abused his power by leaning on a foreign country to provide dirt on a domestic political adversary.
The White House released a reconstructed record of the July call earlier on Wednesday and argued that it showed Mr. Trump did nothing wrong. But Democrats said it was evidence that the president had betrayed his oath and should be charged with high crimes and misdemeanors.
In the call, Mr. Trump urged Mr. Zelensky to contact Attorney General William P. Barr about opening a potential corruption investigation connected to Mr. Biden, according to the administration’s reconstruction of the conversation.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Mr. Trump said in response to Mr. Zelensky raising the prospect of acquiring military equipment from the United States. Noting that the United States had “done a lot for Ukraine,” Mr. Trump also asked that the Ukrainians examine an unsubstantiated theory about stolen Democratic emails.
“So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” the president told Mr. Zelensky.
The Ukrainian president told Mr. Trump that he would have the country’s new top prosecutor look into the matters he raised.
“The next prosecutor general will be 100 percent my person, my candidate,” Mr. Zelensky assured the president. “He or she will look into the situation.”
In their meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said there was nothing wrong with asking for that because Mr. Biden and the Democrats were the corrupt ones. He went on to castigate Ms. Pelosi, saying she had caved into the liberal wing of her party that wants him ousted from office by proceeding with impeachment.
“She’s lost her way,” Mr. Trump said. “She’s been taken over by the radical left.”
Leading House Democrats said the record of the July call made clear that Mr. Trump was pressuring Ukraine to help benefit his own political prospects. Just days before making the call, Mr. Trump had blocked $391 million in American aid to Ukraine. That decision did not come up during the call, according to the White House record, but the two did discuss United States assistance for Ukraine and Mr. Zelensky made clear he needed more.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that the president did not need to explicitly threaten aid to make his point as he asked for a favor.
“There was only one message that that president of Ukraine got from that call and that was: ‘This is what I need, I know what you need,’” Mr. Schiff said. “Like any mafia boss, the president didn’t need to say, ‘That’s a nice country you’ve have — it would be a shame if something happened to it.’”