Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that he was going to authorize “the release “of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine.” I wondered if perhaps knowing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was going to announce her support for an impeachment inquiry, the transcript would provide a lot of exculpatory evidence. I assumed it was certainly going to put him in a more favorable light than what’s been reported during the last few days in the media.
I was wrong.
Put aside the question of impeachment for a moment and whether there was a quid pro quo about military aid. Put aside the fact that Joe Biden’s son’s $50,000 per month seat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company was clearly given to him only because he was the vice president’s kid.
There’s really no way to read the document, which is not a full transcript, without concluding that Trump’s conduct was completely inappropriate. It’s not clear from the call who’s the bigger buffoon, Trump or his Ukrainian counterpart.
After a few pleasantries — Zelensky tells Trump, “We are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country…You are a great teacher for us and in that — the president quickly cuts to the chase and asks for a favor.
A few favors it turns out, but Zelensky lets him know that he’s willing to play ball, saying, “We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine…I would also like and hope to see him having your trust and your confidence and have personal relations with you so we can cooperate even more so. I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with [Trump’s attorney] Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.”
Then comes this from Trump.
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.”
He goes on to add, “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.” A but later on he invites the Ukrainian leader to the White House, “Whenever you would like.”
Zelensky thanks him and tells him there are a variety of options for meeting, adding that “it might be a very good idea for you to travel to Ukraine. We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.”
“Okay we can work that out,” Trump replies. “I look forward to seeing you.”
It’s pretty clear from the transcript that Trump’s priority was getting dirt on Biden’s son, and he was setting things up in hopes of getting that down the road. Biden’s son being on the board was obviously a major conflict of interest and Joe Biden’s claim that he only learned about his son’s role on the board through media accounts sounds absurd.
But imagine if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 and had the same conversation with a newly-elected foreign leader about dirt on Trump’s kids, or the kids of any Republican candidate she might face in 2020.
Hillary might have done it, though she probably would have bided her time and been more discreet. Either way, the coverage on Fox News would look a lot different than this.