My schedule and traveling did not allow me to read the transcript of the call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019, until Thursday when the House Intelligence Committee also released the whistleblower complaint in a lightly redacted from.
Some thoughts, I doubt I’ll have anything original or earth-shattering to say here, but wanted to put something down on the record.
I summarize the events leading up to “Ukrainegate” in an article last Tuesday so I’m not going to go over that again.
1. Reading the transcript didn’t move the needle for me regarding impeachment.
I said last Tuesday that if President Donald Trump played quid pro quo with taxpayer dollars to coerce Ukraine into investigating a political rival that is bribery and abuse of power, so I believe that is reasonably considered an impeachable offense even 14 months from the election.
There is no explicit quid pro quo seen in the transcript.
President Trump first asked about potential Ukrainian involvement in the Russia investigation:
I would like you to do us a favor because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. 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. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like to get to the bottom of it. 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 in Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.
Crowdstrike is a cybersecurity firm in California that the Democratic National Committee contracted with after their servers were hacked. They traced the hacks to a couple of hacker groups with known Russia ties. Trump apparently believes the servers used are in Ukraine.
I’m not sure what evidence there is of that, but the Department of Justice confirmed this week they are investigating Ukraine’s role in interference in the 2016 presidential election.
So if he’s asking for Ukrainian cooperation fine; that’s a legitimate request, though bringing up the “server” lends itself to a conspiracy theory floating around about the Russian hack.
Then President Trump broaches the subject of Vice President Joe Biden:
I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. 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… It sounds horrible to me.
The “very good” prosecutor that President Trump could be Viktor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor-general who was fired in 2016, who was investigating Burisma, the company that Hunter Biden sat on the board, and its president Mykola Zlochevskiy.
Numerous groups wanted to see Shokin gone including the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, individual European nations, the U.S. government, foreign investors, as well as, Ukrainian advocates of reform.
So calling Shokin “very good” is a stretch, putting it mildly.
Another possibility is former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko who replaced Shokin and resigned recently. Lutsenko reportedly met with President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani several times.
While I wouldn’t call this request (provided there was no quid pro quo) impeachable, it’s not good and it appears to be made out of personal, not national, interest.
I don’t support any President asking any foreign government to investigate a current elected official or private citizen.
That said, this issue whether it is investigated or not, does not help Biden. He bragged about the pressure he bragged about withholding aid to Ukraine to force their firing Shokin during the Council of Foreign Relations event in 2018.
At the very least you have to admit that with Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine, his father’s involvement presents a clear conflict of interest.
President Trump shouldn’t have brought it up during his phone call with President Zelensky, but there’s nothing stopping his campaign from attacking Biden on it. Also, he calls for the investigation of a lot of people on Twitter that never happens. So you could look at this phone call and say, “this is Trump being Trump.”
I also think it is acceptable for Congress to look into this to be sure it was above board, and other than perception there is no evidence that it wasn’t above board especially if Vice President Biden was carrying out directions from President Barack Obama in furthering the national interest, not his own. For perception’s sake, he should have recused himself from involvement though.
President Zelensky told President Trump said that his new prosecutor would look into it.
An earlier exchange during the phone call could interepreted as possible evidence of quid pro quo.
President Trump reminds President Zelensky of how much the United States has done for Ukraine:
I will say that we do 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. Germany does almost nothing for you. 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. 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. 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.
Yes you are absolutely right. Not only 100%, but actually 100% and I can tell you the following; I did talk with Angela Merkel and I did meet with her. I also met and talked with Macron and I told them that they are not doing quite as much as they need to be doing on the issues with the sanctions. They are not enforcing the sanctions. They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine. It turns out that even thought logically, the European Union should be our biggest partner but technically the United States is a much bigger partner than the European Union and I’m very grateful to you for that because the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine. Much more than the European Union especially when we are talk about sanctions against the Russian Federation. I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.
After that President Trump brought up Crowdfire and then Biden.
Could this be implied quid pro quo? Perhaps, but it may be Trump talking past Zelensky and moving on. Also, what exactly does Trump mean the Ukraine has not been helpful?
Those who oppose President Trump will see this exchange as quid pro quo and the military aide and receiving the Javelin missiles were contingent on Zelensky’s response to the requests that Trump made and Zelensky knew this.
Those who are avid supporters of Trump will dismiss this exchange and Trump’s request.
I think it’s worth looking into further, but ultimately, the American people should decide at the ballot box unless explicit evidence of a quid pro quo surfaces.
2. The whistleblower account is nothing but hearsay and speculation.
The whistleblower, who was identified as a CIA officer tasked to the White House, is not a witness to the phone call. In fact, now that the transcript was released it shows that we actually know more about the phone call than the whistleblower knew for certain at the time even though he did get the basic gist of the conversation right.
For instance, the whistleblower said that Attorney General William Bar was involved. He wasn’t, Trump just dropped his name.
He also mentioned that Trump praised Lutsenko, but that was not at all clear.
The whistleblower also expressed concern about the records of the call being “locked down.”
Considering the transcript has been released I don’t think one can accurately cry there was a cover-up. It could be that President Trump and/or White House officials were concerned about leaks.
Gee, why in the world would he be concerned about leaks? (Asking tongue firmly in cheek.)
He then closes out the complaint with citing a series of news articles.
It’s rather anticlimactic to me now that we have the transcript.
The complaint does give congressional investigators several threads of investigation, but in reality, before May he would not have been able to file a whistleblower complaint since he was not a first-hand witness.
Should Democrats attempt to impeach President Trump without solid evidence of quid pro quo, I’m still convinced it will be a political gamble.
Perhaps they will find that evidence. I’m not willing to say with 100 percent certainty that there was no quid pro quo with the $400 million dollar aid package to Ukraine. The White House will need to explain why it was delayed.
Also, some Democrats claim that the White House is hiding the verbatim, word for word transcript of the phone call.
That is unlikely. Yes, the transcript is a memo, a reconstruction of the transcript by notetakers in the White House Situation Room. They were transcribing the phone call as it happened, so no, it isn’t a verbatim, word-for-word transcript. There is no evidence that the phone call was recorded. Also, if there was explicit quid pro quo during the phone call wouldn’t that be mentioned in the whistleblower report? Wouldn’t that be worth mentioning by a person who is “alarmed” by the phone call? I would think so.
While inappropriate, impeaching President Trump on the basis of asking Ukraine to investigate Biden alone is questionable considering there’s evidence that the Obama administration asked Ukraine’s help to investigate Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chair.
Also, Politico reported that Ukrainian officials attempted to help Hillary Clinton’s efforts to reach the White House. If what Trump did was bad (and it is), so is Democrat involvement with Ukraine. Let’s be consistent.
Ultimately, the transcript and whistleblower complaint were released so there is no cover-up and the Ukrainian aid was released.
I would be shocked if Democrats did not impeach President Trump, but they are going to need much, much more than this if they hope to get a conviction in the Senate.