President Trump has claimed repeatedly that his July 25th call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky was totally innocuous. “The conversation, by the way, was absolutely perfect,” he told reporters on Sunday. “It was a beautiful, warm, nice conversation.”
A written record of the conversation allegedly at the center of a whistleblower complaint filed by a national intelligence official tells a different story. (The declassified readout bares a disclaimer identifying it as “not a verbatim transcript.”) Released by the White House Wednesday morning, the transcript not only does not exonerate the president, it is extraordinarily damning, and should provide plenty of fodder for House Democrats, who on Tuesday announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry into the president.
Here are some of the most damning passages:
When Zelensky brings up military aid, Trump asks him for a favor
Trump ordered a freeze on Congress-approved military aid for Ukraine shortly before speaking with Zelensky on July 25th, and many have feared that Trump was attempting to extort Zelensky, offering to un-freeze the aid on the condition he dug up dirt on Joe Biden. Trump has insisted there was no “quid pro quo,” but what the transcript reveals is about as close as it comes.
Trump also invokes former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and implies that his investigation began in Ukraine.
President Zelensky: “… I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps, specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes…
President Trump: “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. 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. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation … I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense. It ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
This was preceded by Trump, at the top of the call, essentially saying Ukraine owes the United States:
President Trump: “… A lot of the European countries are the same way so I think it’s something you want to look at but 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.”
Trump pushes Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden
Trump already admitted that he brought up Biden while speaking with Zelensky. Here’s what he said:
President Trump: “… I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. 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 tells Zelensky to coordinate with Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer who has no government role, and with Attorney General William Barr
Rudy Giuliani has been working Ukraine to investigate Biden for months. He’s met multiple times with one of the former prosecutors who investigated the company associated with Biden’s son, after which the prosecutor re-opened the investigation. On Tuesday, Giuliani said on Fox News that he never spoke to a Ukrainian official until he was asked to by the State Department.
Regarding Barr, the transcript is evidence that Trump offered a foreign government the assistance of the United States Justice Department to investigate a political rival ahead of an election.
President Trump: “Well she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, they’re incredible people.”
President Trump [LATER]: “Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that out. I look forward to seeing you.”
It’s hard to know which is worse: the president pushing a foreign leader to work with his personal lawyer to dig up dirt on a political opponent, or enlisting a high-ranking member of his Cabinet, the Attorney General, in the same political exercise.
Barr’s involvement could date back months before the call. On May 1st, while Barr was testifying before the Senate regarding the Mueller report, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked him if the president had ever asked or suggested he open an investigation into anyone. “Uhh, I wouldn’t… Could you repeat the question?” Barr replied before continuing to stammer and deflecting follow-up questions from Harris.
It was also on the legal advice of Barr that the whistleblower complaint the call helped inspire had been withheld from Congress.