The transcripts of the phone call between President Donald Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine were released today, providing more cannon fodder for Congress’ impeachment inquiry.
Today, the President released the transcript of a phone call that took place on July 25th, 2019 at approximately 9:00 a.m. between himself and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to discuss U.S.-Ukrainian relations with the newly elected Zelensky. Specifically, the two discussed the lack of aid for Ukraine from many countries in the E.U. including Germany and France, the Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, and Trump’s request for an investigation into Biden’s political involvement with Ukraine in relation to his son’s business in the country.
It should be noted that at the time of the phone call, the U.S. was also withholding foreign military aid from Ukraine, something the President could use as leverage to have Ukraine do his bidding. It is also odd that Trump said Zelensky should call his personal lawyer, Rudi Guliani and Attorney General William Barr.
It is not rare for foreign meddling in elections to take place, the U.S. did and still does, but to ask for foreign information on a political opponent seems to cross a line for Democrats. Many Democrats in Congress will see this transcript as an attempt by the president to perhaps influence another country’s investigations of a U.S. citizen for the benefit of Trump’s Presidential campaign. These moments in the transcripts will be cannon fodder for the impeachment inquiry despite the fact that it is unlikely that the President will be removed from office via impeachment.
Biden And Ukraine
It is very clear that this phone call details explicitly that Trump requests that Ukraine investigate the removal of the previous General Prosecutor of Ukraine Viktor Shokin as it relates to Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. As Vice President during the Obama administration, Joe Biden did offer Ukraine on behalf of the U.S. one billion dollars if they fired Shokin. However, it seems that there was pressure from the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian politicians, and other foreign powers to remove Shokin as a part of an anti-corruption campaign in Ukraine. It seems that Shokin would not have investigated the corruption he was probably involved in and therefore would not investigate Hunter Biden’s business interests.
Hunter Biden was on the board of the country’s largest oil company, Burisma. The company’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, was under investigation by the Obama administration for corruption for his ties to the ousted President in 2014, Viktor Yanukovych. Did the ousting of Shokin happen to benefit Hunter Biden? That is not clear and, at least, warrants additional inquiry given Trump’s accusations. However, the conflict of interest was looked at upon Joe Biden’s frequent trips to Ukraine and investigation determined that Joe Biden’s interests were completely professional.
Transcription of Call by The White House Situation Room
The transcript can be found here. It is worth noting that the transcript is transcribed from the memory of those in the situation room and not recorded.
There is also a desire for a transcript of the first phone call as well, which Trump stated during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that he is willing to provide if Zelensky is okay with that. During the same press conference, Trump also remarked that he does not like the precedent of releasing phone calls as it may mean that foreign leaders will be less willing to share information and work with the U.S.
Trump And Zelensky
Zelensky based a lot of his campaign on Trump’s and they are both entertainers who became politicians. Zelensky says in the transcript that he “worked a lot but I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and were able to use it as an example to our elections . . .”
Zelensky also mentioned that “last time [he] traveled to the United States, [he] stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower.” Many take issue with Trump’s encouragement of politicians, military, and foreign leaders staying in his hotels as his political aspirations also benefit him personally.
Trump mentioned what he sees as a non-symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine, saying, according to the situation room transcript, that “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 . . . I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot . . . There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution [Shokin] and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
Trump’s campaign model helped a foreign leader win an election and those same leaders can turn around and look to Trump for support. Whether intentional or not, the international political ramifications cannot be ignored as the rise of nationalism continues like a tsunami around the world. Trump said it best at the UN, stating that he believes “the future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.”
It is also worth keeping in mind that the transcript is not the only conversation or item that the whistleblower finds concerning. When Congress hears the full complaint and the truth comes out, it will be interesting to see what emerges from the complaint. Right now, the White House is able to keep a tight grip on the complaint, but eventually, the whistleblower’s complaint will need to see the light of day. What will come out of the shadows is still unknown to the public, but it would be safe to say that none of it is “innocuous” as the President claims.
Zelensky and Trump sat down in front of the press after a bilateral meeting earlier Wednesday afternoon. Trump started off by saying “I think the press would like to stay in the meeting but we have lots of witnesses.” He also stated that Ukraine is a country with tremendous potential, which Zelensky agreed saying that he is “from there.”
The two world leaders also opened up the meeting by making jokes, since Zelensky is a comedian. Zelensky talked about the two wars going on in Ukraine: corruption and the war with Russia. Zelensky also insisted that “we [Ukraine] don’t need help, we need support, real support . . . Only together with America [U.S.] and EU, only together can we stop the war.”
In regard to the transcript, Zelensky said “I think you read everything, I think you read text. I, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved to democratic, open elections, of USA . . . I think you have read it that nobody . . . pushed me,” and he also added that “I can’t push anyone,” in response to the level of influence he has over Ukrainian prosecutors.
Trump added, “in other words, no pressure.” Towards the end of the session, a reporter asked Trump why he would refer Zelensky to Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Guliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Trump had no response and ended the session at that point.
Trump began the press conference today at about 4:15 p.m. He started by outlining everything he and his advisors did during the UN General Assembly held this week in New York City. He made many comments about how unfair the U.S. press was for not reporting on that and only focusing on these transcripts. He talked at length about how unfair his treatment is.
Trump also talked a lot about trade with various countries, notably Japan and China. Trump also boasted about the economy and jobs, how the U.S. is “the strongest it has ever been.” As always, China wants to make a deal. According to Trump, as he expressed before, “NAFTA is the worst trade deal ever made.”
He also brought up making deals in regard to who and how American countries would handle asylum seekers. Trump talked with both Guatemala and El Salvador on these issues which of course was a segway for him to talk about the U.S.-Mexico border wall. He went on about the wall in length about how beautiful it looks including the level of cooperation it took to build and how the wall is hard to climb.
Trump also reacted to reports that Joseph Maguire, the Acting Intelligence Chief, threatened to resign if he could not release the whistleblower complaint and talk about it freely, allegations which Maguire denies. Trump did not have a chance to talk with Maguire prior to the conference. Trump did call the Washington Post, who initially broke the story, “fake news.”
Mike Pompeo and Steve Minuchin also spoke about Iran and Middle East stability, the economy, and trade, saying that all are going well.
In regard to the transcript, Trump stated that the call revealed nothing that the Democrats did not already do when they were more powerful in the government. He often used the term radical left. According to his remarks, he believes that if a politician is a Democrat that they can get away with anything. He again cited Hillary Clinton’s “deleted” emails. Trump also made claims that Obama asked for foreign information on Trump. He implied that the Democrats insurance policy is getting Trump impeached.
He implied that asking questions about the “witch hunt,” similar to the Russia investigation, are bad for the country and not what people should focus on. Despite his efforts, the press still asked many questions about the transcript and hardly any were devoted to the UNGA or trade and the economy.
Trump finally commented on the situation in Venezuela at the request of a Venezuelan reporter, saying that socialism has no place in the U.S. and that the White House has its eye on Venezuela before ending the press conference.
The whistleblower scandal has nothing to do with who did what first. No matter who did something wrong or whose political interests and personal interests are compromised at home or abroad, any party who did something wrong should be held accountable. Simply because Biden and the Democrats may have done something wrong, as Trump and his allies claim, does not mean Trump did not.