President Trump and his allies have leaned on several confusing excuses to defend the president in the wake of the revelation that he solicited Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. One, that the whistleblower complaint that set off the scandal was illegitimate because he or she didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the call, was thoroughly debunked by the intelligence community’s inspector general earlier this week. Another that’s just as dubious is that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) recited fake dialogue before Congress to make Trump’s July 25th phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sound worse than it actually was.
“Congressman Adam Schiff should resign for the Crime of, after reading a transcript of my conversation with the President of Ukraine (it was perfect), fraudulently fabricating a statement of the President of the United States and reading it to Congress, as though mine!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “He is sick!”
Trump has attacked Schiff by name nearly 20 times on Twitter since Schiff detailed the contents of the call’s “transcript” during Acting National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire’s testimony before the Intelligence Committee last Thursday. Most of the attacks have centered around the idea that Schiff “illegally” misrepresented Trump’s call with Zelensky, during which Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to investigate both Joe Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory about 2016 election interference. His attacks continued Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office.
“He should resign from office in disgrace, and frankly they should look at him for treason,” Trump told reporters as part of a lengthy rant against “lowlife” Schiff.
TRUMP on Adam Schiff: "They should look at him for treason." pic.twitter.com/AwttLmIHmo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 2, 2019
So what exactly is Trump so mad about here?
During his opening statement last Thursday, Schiff summarized the nature of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, a partial readout of which had been made public the previous day. “Shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates,” Schiff said before dramatizing Trump’s exchange. Here’s what he said:
“We’ve been very good to your country. Very good. No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what? I don’t see much reciprocity here. I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though. And I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it. On this and on that. I’m going to put you in touch with people, not just any people. I’m going to put you in touch with the attorney general of the United States, my attorney general Bill Barr. He’s got the whole weight of the American law enforcement behind him. And I’m going to put you in touch with Rudy. You’re going to love him, trust me. You know what I’m asking and so I’m only going to say this a few more times, in a few more ways. And by the way, don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.”
“This is, in sum and character, what the president was trying to communicate with the president of Ukraine,” Schiff concluded. “It would be funny if it wasn’t such a graphic betrayal of the president’s oath of office. But as it does represent a real betrayal, there’s nothing the president says here that is in America’s interest after all.”
Not only did Schiff begin and end his re-creation of the call with disclaimers clarifying he wasn’t reciting Trump’s actual words, his interpretation was not inaccurate. Let’s take it from the top…
- Trump actually said the U.S. has been good to Ukraine but that it hasn’t been reciprocated. Here’s what Trump said according to the “transcript” released by the White House:
“The United States has been very very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.”
- Immediately after Zelensky mentioned that Ukraine was ready to “cooperate” with the U.S. in order to receive military aid, Trump said he wanted Zelensky to “do us a favor though,” the “though” serving as a conditional that implies, yes, a quid pro quo. The favor was for Zelensky to look into a conspiracy theory about the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike that purports the Democrats essentially framed Russia for the 2016 election interference (as we explained last week). Trump’s own staff repeatedly told him there was no merit to this theory. But here’s what Trump said, according to the White House readout:
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
- Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, currently one of the leading contenders to take on Trump in the 2020 election. Though some on the right have claimed Biden forced Ukraine’s prosecutor general out of office because he was investigating Burisma Holdings, a company connected to Biden’s son Hunter, in reality the prosecutor had already concluded the investigation, and Biden was one part of a broad international coalition pressuring Ukraine to remove the prosecutor. Even the prosecutor’s own deputy resigned because of the rank corruption within the office. Biden also did not appear to do anything to thwart other efforts, including those of the Obama administration, to investigate Burisma.
The only conceivable reason Trump would ask Zelensky to investigate Biden, years after the fact, was to obtain “dirt” on a potential 2020 opponent. From the readout:
“The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it …”
- Trump also said plainly that he would put Zelensky in touch with Attorney General William Barr and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to assist with the effort. He mentioned Giuliani to Zelensky four times, and Barr five times. From the readout:
“Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
In his opening statement last Thursday, Schiff was only saying out loud what Trump was clearly implying — and often saying blatantly — in his conversation with Zelensky. Though Schiff did indeed speak as if he was reading Trump’s words, he noted clearly that he was not reading from the readout verbatim; he was only interpreting the “essence” of the call. He did so accurately.
Just before Trump’s rant from the Oval Office on Wednesday, Schiff addressed the call again during a joint press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances that would have alarmed the Founders more than what’s on that call,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine a more corrupt course of conduct.”