Tape Made Public of Trump Discussing Ukraine With Donors

WASHINGTON — For an hour one evening in 2018, President Trump sat around a table in a private room in his Washington hotel with a group of donors, including two men at the center of the impeachment inquiry, talking about golf, trade, politics — and removing the United States ambassador to Ukraine.

The conversation, captured on a recording made public Saturday, contradicted Mr. Trump’s repeated statements that he does not know the two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who went on to work with the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to carry out a pressure campaign on Ukraine.

The hourlong recording — a video shot on Mr. Fruman’s phone during the dinner in April 2018 — confirmed Mr. Parnas’s account of having raised with Mr. Trump criticisms of the ambassador to Kyiv at the time, Marie L. Yovanovitch, and the president’s immediate order that Ms. Yovanovitch should be removed from the post.

“Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump can be heard responding.

The recording was made public by Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, hours after the president’s lawyers began presenting their defense in the impeachment trial and as Democrats looked for leverage to persuade Republicans to support their calls to expand the inquiry by calling new witnesses.

Mr. Bondy said it was being released in “an effort to provide clarity to the American people and the Senate as to the need to conduct a fair trial, with witnesses and evidence.”

In the recording, Mr. Parnas, who is the more talkative of the two, broached an energy deal the two were pursuing in Ukraine, and then went on to discuss several themes that became central to the pressure campaign. He claimed that Ms. Yovanovitch had been disparaging Mr. Trump, that the Ukrainians “were supporting the Clintons all these years” and even mentions in passing the family of the former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The recording does not appear to introduce substantive new information about the effort to oust Ms. Yovanovitch.

But it does seem to shed light on the origins of Mr. Trump’s interest in the issue, and to foreshadow his administration’s withholding of military assistance from the country as part of the pressure campaign. It hints at the motivations of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who had come to believe that Ms. Yovanovitch was opposed to their business plans in Ukraine, where they had tried to break into the natural gas market, according to associates of the two men, both of whom are Soviet-born American citizens.

And it provides a glimpse of something rarely seen: top-tier political donors getting a chance in an intimate setting to share their views with the president and press their agendas with him.

Democrats are seeking Mr. Trump’s removal from office on the grounds that he abused his power pressing Ukraine to investigate targets of the president, including Mr. Biden and his family. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman worked closely with Mr. Giuliani in seeking information and making contacts in Ukraine in support of the effort.

For most of the recording, the camera is pointed at the ceiling. But in its early moments it shows Mr. Trump as he enters the private room at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on April 30, 2018.

The existence, and some of the conversation in the recording, was first reported by ABC News on Friday.

In the full recording released on Saturday, Mr. Parnas can be heard telling Mr. Trump that he and Mr. Fruman “are in the process of purchasing an energy company in Ukraine right now.”

Mr. Trump responds “How’s Ukraine doing?” then quickly adds “don’t answer,” prompting laughter in the room.

After some conversation about Ukraine’s war with its hostile neighbor, Russia, and its efforts to establish energy security, Mr. Trump asked, “How long would they last in a fight with Russia?”

“I don’t think very long,” Mr. Parnas responded. “Without us, not very long.”

Mr. Parnas continued by saying that “the biggest problem is corruption there,” and later added Ms. Yovanovitch, though not by name, to a list of issues Mr. Trump should address in Ukraine.

“The biggest problem there, I think, where we, where you, need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador,” he said. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.’”

Mr. Trump asked for the ambassador’s name. Mr. Parnas said, “I don’t remember.” Mr. Trump then said: “Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”

Those comments were directed at one of Mr. Trump’s aides who was in the room at the time, Mr. Parnas has previously said. There was some laughter in the room at his remarks.

Ms. Yovanovitch remained in her job for another year after Mr. Trump’s remarks until she was recalled on the White House’s orders, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry. It is not clear whether the president changed his mind, forgot about his order or was talked out of dismissing her.

At the beginning of the video, the person holding it walks around the private suite filming chatter between the guests, who include Jack Nicklaus III, the grandson and namesake of the legendary golfer, and Barry Zekelman, a Canadian billionaire whose business is mostly in the United States.

At one point, Mr. Fruman is warned by the voice of someone who appears to be an organizer “some people may not want their pictures taken. Just be aware of that.”

Later, Mr. Trump tells attendees, “This is all sort of, like, off the record, right?”