The White House on Wednesday released a five-page memo summarizing President Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
The call was among the issues that led to a whistle-blower complaint and a formal impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives, which was announced Tuesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Trump also recently confirmed that he ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before the call.
One thing to note: The rough transcript is not a full account of what was said on the call between Trump and Zelensky — a note at the bottom of the first page directly says it is “not a verbatim transcript” and is based on the “notes and recollections” of staffers listening in — which means more details might yet emerge.
Still, here’s a quick look at the main points of note in the memo.
1. Trump prodded Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden
In the call, Trump raised allegations, unsupported by any evidence, that the former vice president sought to interfere with a Ukrainian prosecutor’s investigation of his son Hunter, who had been hired by a gas company in that country. “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,’’ Trump said.
Trump continued, “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.”
The pressure from the president of the United States on a strategic partner facing a threat from Russia to aid him in an election is what has galvanized so many Democrats and convinced Pelosi to announce a formal impeachment inquiry.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff cast the situation in historic terms Wednesday: In the 1990’s, the US was among the countries that convinced Ukraine to give up the nuclear weapons it had inherited from the former Soviet Union, Schiff explained. Ukraine did so with a promise from the US that it would aid the country in defending itself from Russian aggression, only to see Trump withhold that aid years later as he requested a political favor.
“Ukraine understood exactly what was being asked of it,” Schiff said, calling the request a “fundamental betrayal of his oath of office.”
2. Trump also wanted Zelensky to look into ‘the server’ and mentioned a cybersecurity firm involved in the Russia probe
Early on in the call, Trump seemed to raise the subject of the Democratic National Committee computer server and an investigation conducted by cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, which was involved in tracking Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Bloomberg News.
“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,” Trump said, according to the memo.
Trump continued by saying “that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance” by Robert Mueller — likely referring to the special counsel testifying before Congress the day before the phone call — adding, “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.”
It was not clear what Trump meant when he referenced the server and said that “Ukraine has it,” but the exchange shows Trump is still focused on the 2016 election.
In a statement to the Washington Post, CrowdStrike said it stood by its 2016 investigation into the hack of the DNC.
3. Trump wanted Rudy Giuliani and AG William Barr to help Zelensky
After talking about the DNC server, Trump told Zelensky, “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.”
Zelensky said that one of his assistants had already spoken with Giuliani recently, and said he was hoping “very much” that Giuliani would be abel to travel to Ukraine, so that he could set up a meeting.
Trump then sang Giuliani’s praises, calling him “a highly respected man.”
“He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you,” Trump said. “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.”
4. The Ukrainian president seemed to be sucking up to Trump
Zelensky, 41, was elected in April with 73 percent of the vote, reflecting Ukrainians’ exhaustion with widespread corruption. As the country remains engaged in a border conflict with Russia, Ukraine has been reliant on promised US military aid, which was frozen by Trump days before the call.
After Trump congratulated Zelensky for his victory, the new Ukrainian leader said he “would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you,” adding that he used “quite a few of your skills and knowledge” to help in the election, and appeared delighted to be talking to Trump a second time (Trump apparently called him after Zelensky won his election in the spring).
“I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often,” Zelensky seemed to gush in the beginning of the call, according to the memo.
He continued to say he wanted to “drain the swamp here in our country,” referring to a classic Trump-ism from the campaign trail, adding, “You are a great teacher for us and in that.”
Zelensky praised Trump’s plane (“probably much better than mine”) and made sure to note that he stayed in Trump Tower when he had visited New York City.
“Actually last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” he said.
After Trump mentioned “the server” and CrowdStrike, Zelensky seemed open to investigating more.
“Yes it is very important for me,” he said, before noting he would like to work closely with Trump and his administration, saying, “we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine.”
5. Trump seemed to be bullying Zelensky, and openly complained about European leaders
After Zelensky praised him, Trump in turn began to criticize many European countries, while also telling Zelensky pointedly that the United States has done “a lot for Ukraine.”
“We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are,” Trump said.
Notably, Trump was most vocal about Germany and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about,” Trump said. “When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn’t do anything. A lot of the European countries are the same way so I think it’s something you want to look at.”
Zelensky, in keeping to his praises of Trump throughout the call, replied: “Yes you are absolutely right. Not only 100 percent, but actually 1000 percent,” and then spoke about potentially buying more weapons from the US.
6. Trump blasted his own ambassador, referring to her as ‘the woman’
As the two presidents spoke about installing ambassadors who were loyal to their administrations, Trump began criticizing an envoy to the Ukraine he inherited once he was elected.
”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 about that,” Trump said.
“It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 percent,” Zelensky replied.
”Well she is going to go through some things,” Trump said.
Trump was referring to the Obama-appointed former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was sworn in during the late summer of 2016 and departed her post in May of this year — months earlier than scheduled, according to the Washington Post. One source told the paper she had become the target of political attacks from conservatives who were accusing her of being involved in a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton.
“It’s clear that this decision was politically motivated, as allies of President Trump had joined foreign actors in lobbying for the Ambassador’s dismissal,” a statement from Democrats on the Foreign Affairs committee said at the time.
The criticism during the call troubled one Congressman and former diplomat:
7. Ellipses are curiously located in potentially incriminating parts of the memo
The first time ellipses were used was when Trump was speaking about “the server” and the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.
“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,” Trump said (as also noted in a passage above in this story).
Meanwhile, the most potentially curious ellipsis comes when Trump began speaking about Biden.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said.
Since ellipses can note either the omission of content or when a person pauses or trails off, the placement of the grammatical devices left some critics to wonder about their meaning.
However, later Wednesday morning, a White House official said the ellipses “do not indicate missing words or phrases,” according to an Associated Press reporter.
Official: “The ellipses do not indicate missing words or phrases. They refer to a trailing off of a voice or pause. If there were missing words or phrases, they would be represented by brackets or redactions. This is the standard practice” for POTUS call records https://t.co/Jatw2b7fqx— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) September 25, 2019
Wire material from the Associated Press and Bloomberg News was used in this report.