Five things to know about Trump’s call with Ukraine leader

The White House on Wednesday released a rough transcript of President Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the contents of which are at the heart of House Democrats’ decision to launch an impeachment inquiry.

The memo reveals Trump urged Zelensky to look into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr on the matter.

{mosads}Trump raised U.S. support for Ukraine on the call, but the White House and its Republican allies have fallen back on the defense that there was no explicit quid pro quo that made aid contingent on opening a probe into Biden.

But the document has provided more fuel for Democrats, who on Tuesday announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump. More information is likely to trickle out in the coming days as lawmakers demand access to a whistleblower complaint focused around the call with Zelensky.

In the meantime, Wednesday’s memo offered insights into how Trump interacts with foreign leaders, how he urges them to act through implication rather than explicit demands and how he can sometimes hold grudges.

Here are five takeaways from the document.


Mueller probe still on Trump’s mind

The July 25 phone call took place one day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress about his expansive report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and it was evident that the former special counsel was on Trump’s mind.

The president requested Zelensky do a “favor” and investigate Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm that probed the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and determined Russia was responsible.

{mossecondads}“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,” Trump said. “As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense 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,” Trump said.

The president’s focus on the 2016 hack, his fixation on Mueller and his rhetoric on Wednesday after the memo’s release underscored his persistent focus on the probe that consumed the first two years of his presidency.

Trump on Wednesday decried the furor over the call as the “single greatest witch hunt in American history,” a descriptor he regularly used to disparage the Mueller probe.

Republican senators followed suit, with many of them likening the Democratic reaction to Wednesday’s memo to the party’s handling of the Mueller report.

“This was never about Russian collusion or Ukrainian prosecutions,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a fierce Trump ally. “It is all about undoing the 2016 election and the will of the American people.”


Barr becomes key character in Ukraine controversy

Six months after Barr withstood a wave of Democratic criticism over a four-page memo he wrote detailing the conclusions of the Mueller investigation, the attorney general finds himself near the center of a fresh controversy.

The release of the partial transcript showed that Trump encouraged Zelensky to contact not only Giuliani — who was previously known to be pushing the Biden investigation in Ukraine — but also Barr.

“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,” Trump said on July 25.

It was a surprise revelation, but one that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was immediately ready to clarify.

A DOJ spokesperson said Barr was first notified of the call “several weeks” after it took place and that Trump has not spoken to the attorney general “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son.”

The DOJ said Barr has not communicated with Ukraine about Biden or any other subject, and that he hadn’t discussed the issue with Giuliani. The Justice Department also said it had dismissed a referral that the call may have constituted a campaign finance violation.

Democrats, who eviscerated Barr for his handling of the Mueller investigation, quickly pounced on the revelations. Democratic presidential candidates also piled on.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro called for the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Barr. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) demanded he testify before Congress. 


Trump swipes at Angela Merkel

Trump has in recent days painted his decision to withhold military aid for Ukraine as one based on his desire to see countries like Germany contribute more to fighting Russian aggression.

That argument appeared to have its roots in the White House memo of the July call, where Trump went after German Chancellor Angela Merkel by name.

“I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. … Germany does almost nothing for you,” he told Zelensky. “All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about.

“When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn’t do anything,” Trump added. “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.”

Zelensky responded by saying Trump was “Not only 100 percent, but actually 1000 percent” right about the lack of European contributions.

The exchange reflected how Trump often holds grudges. Merkel has been a clear foil for Trump, as she was a close ally of former President Obama and has been willing to criticize the Trump administration on the world stage.


Zelensky flatters Trump 

The call made abundantly clear that Zelensky, who was elected in April, was prepared for catering to Trump’s ego.

Over the course of the call, the political neophyte likened Trump to a teacher for his campaign, invoked a prominent campaign slogan of Trump’s and dropped in a reference to Trump Tower.

“I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often,” Zelensky told Trump.

After Trump told Zelensky he was pleased to hear there would be a focus on addressing corruption in Ukraine, Zelensky replied that he wanted to “drain the swamp,” something Trump’s supporters chant at his rallies.

“We brought in many many new people,” Zelensky said. “Not the old politicians, not the typical politicians, because we want to have a new format and a new type of government. You are a great teacher for us and in that.”

Zelensky at various points in the call enthusiastically agreed with Trump. He echoed Trump’s criticism of the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and piled on when Trump chastised Merkel.


Confusion follows the memo’s release

Trump had teased the release of a “complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript” of his call with Zelensky. But that’s not exactly what the White House made public.

The document is labeled a “memorandum of telephone conversation.” A note on the first page further clarifies that it is “not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.” Instead, it is based on the notes and recollections of national security officials who memorialized the call, making it difficult to know what may be missing from the call and how much of it is word-for-word what the two leaders said.

The discrepancy is sure to be a talking point for Democrats pushing for additional information about the call in the coming days.

Lawmakers are pressing for the full whistleblower complaint that was filed in August and raised concerns about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees received the complaint late Wednesday afternoon.

Committees in the House and Senate are working to secure testimony from the whistleblower, and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee.

The document’s release was jarring for some in Washington who viewed it as a breach of diplomatic protocol that could jeopardize future talks with foreign leaders. Others in the nation’s capital were shocked the White House had agreed to share something that could be seen as so damaging. 

“I think what we have learned, what has been admitted and now what we see in writing is about as damning as you can imagine,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said at a news conference.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Impeachment impeachment inquiry Jim Jordan Joe Biden Mueller investigation Robert Mueller Rudy Giuliani Ukraine Whistleblower William Barr

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