The Slatest

It Doesn’t Matter if There’s a Quid Pro Quo in the “Transcript” (but, in Fact, There Is)

Five pages of printed notes are seen on a black table.
Notes on a July 25 call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky as released by the White House on Wednesday.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The White House has released notes that outline what was said during Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and, wouldn’t you know it, a take immediately bubbled up from a Fox News producer asserting that the document does not contain the words “if you smear Joe Biden for me, I’ll release the congressionally authorized military aid to your country that I’ve been holding up.”

This is the White House’s talking point too, of course: no explicit quid pro quo, therefore nothing amiss.

Please, folks, let’s kill and bury this take before it gets a chance to start causing havoc. President Donald Trump, in his own administration’s account of the call, pressured* a foreign leader of a client state to target a specific American citizen! That particular citizen, moreover, is the leading candidate to become the Democratic nominee for president! This is a very bad, very abusive-of-power thing to do, all on its own, regardless of whether conditions were attached to it.

But you’d also have to be willfully ignoring the message to believe Trump wasn’t attaching conditions. What does this, from the notes, in a section where Trump is talking, sound like to you?

I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. … 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.

And then, a few minutes later:

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 [William Barr] would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. … It sounds horrible to me.

(Biden was among many international figures who called for the 2014 removal of Ukraine’s federal prosecutor, who had opened but then apparently abandoned an investigation into a natural gas company that Hunter Biden worked for. The goal that Biden and others cited at the time, however, was to increase the number of corruption prosecutions that Ukraine carried out, and there’s no evidence that the removal of the prosecutor kept charges from being filed against Biden’s son’s company, much less against Biden’s son himself.)

So: The United States has been very good to Ukraine in terms of foreign aid, but I’m upset that the relationship isn’t reciprocal, because bad things are happening in Ukraine, like, for example, the failure to investigate my presumptive opponent in the presidential election.

Does it need to be more clear? Are we all this dumb? (Maybe?)

Correction, Sept. 25, 2019: This post initially described Trump as “demanding” a Biden investigation. “Pressured” is more accurate.