The White House hopes to show that there was nothing untoward in the US-Ukraine relationship by releasing a rough transcript of President Donald Trump’s first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But nobody had accused Trump of doing anything wrong in that initial, congratulatory call. And the transcript raises a few questions that deserve further scrutiny.
Here’s a breakdown of three discrepancies.
In the phone call, Trump said he would look into attending Zelensky’s inauguration, and promised that “at a minimum” the US would send a “very, very high level” official to the event in May.
Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to attend, but his participation was scrapped, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Instead, the delegation was led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and was joined by then-US Special Envoy for Ukraine and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Those three men were referred to as the “Three Amigos,” who coordinated with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on his shadow foreign policy.
The whistleblower complaint mentioned this, raising concerns that Trump may have blocked Pence from attending until his team figure out Zelensky would “play ball” on launching investigations into Biden.
Cleaning up corruption
In the call, there is no mention of corruption — despite a White House readout released on the day of the call, saying the issue arose. And Trump administration officials later claimed that corruption was a persistent issue in Ukraine that Trump was intent on rooting out, begging the question why he didn’t bring it up in his first conversation with Zelensky.
The readout in April, which was distributed to reporters, said Trump “expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”
That is not reflected in the call, during which Trump mentions a White House invite, the “tremendous” US economy, and the Miss Universe pageant, which he previously owned — but not corruption.
It’s a notable omission.
In defending Trump against accusations of a quid pro quo, Republicans have repeatedly said rooting out corruption was a top priority of the President’s. But in the phone call, it doesn’t arise.
Impressions of Zelensky
Trump is effusive in his praise of Zelensky in the phone call — which doesn’t reflect the skepticism Republicans have claimed led to a hold on US military aid over the summer.
Trump tells Zelensky: “I have many friends in Ukraine who know you and like you.”
But Republicans, in defending Trump’s move to freeze the aid, have said the administration wanted to ensure the new Ukrainian government was up to snuff. The White House has also defended the aid holdup by saying they needed time to certify that Zelensky’s administration was not corrupt, like past Ukrainian leaders.
“When it came time to check out this new guy, President Trump said, ‘Let’s just see, let’s just see if he’s legit,’ So, for 55 days, we checked him out,” Rep. Jim Jordan, a top Republican defender of Trump, said during Wednesday’s hearing.
Jordan later tweeted: “During that time, we verified that President Zelensky was the real deal.”
But in the phone call, it looked like Trump was already convinced that Zelensky was the “real deal.”
“We’re with you all the way,” Trump told him.