On Wednesday, the White House released a summary of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Reporting about what had been discussed during that call reinvigorated calls for impeachment and ultimately led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch an official impeachment inquiry on Tuesday. The transcript, which is not a verbatim record but rather a reconstruction of the conversation based on the notes and memories of those present in the Situation Room at the time, does not definitively settle some of the big questions around impeachment. However, it does reveal some telling details about how a foreign leader like Zelensky might try to flatter Trump. Previous reporting indicates that foreign leaders are especially cautious to demonstrate devotion and voice praise for the president.
The call begins with Trump congratulating Zelensky on his victory in Ukraine’s presidential election. Zelensky responds by crediting much of his strategy during the campaign to Trump, noting, “I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and were able to use it as an example for our elections.” Zelensky also mentions, “We are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country,” referencing Trump’s slogan during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Later in the conversation, Trump tells Zelensky, “Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country. I have many Ukrainian friends, their incredible people.” Zelensky responds, “I would like to tell you that I also have quite a few Ukrainian friends that live in the United States. Actually last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower.”
The phenomenon of foreign leaders staying at Trump hotels in order to curry favor with the administration has been well documented. The New York Times reported that more than 110 foreign officials from nearly 60 countries have been spotted at Trump hotels, golf courses, and other properties since 2017. The government of Saudi Arabia racked up the single largest known tab at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., spending $268,477. Republican politicians, conservative lobbyists, and other people seeking influence have also taken to patronizing Trump’s businesses. Foreign diplomats have said that they see it as a friendly gesture to the president.
After Zelensky slips in the fact that he stayed at Trump Tower, the two leaders discuss the possibility of paying each other a visit in their respective countries:
The President: Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that out. I look forward to seeing you.
President Zelenskyy: Thank you very much. I would be very happy to come and would be happy to meet with you personally and get to know you better. I am looking forward to our meeting and I also would like to invite you to visit Ukraine and come to the city of Kyiv which is a beautiful city. We have a beautiful country which would welcome you. On the other hand, I believe that on September 1 we will be in Poland and we can meet in Poland hopefully. After that, it might be a very good idea for you to travel to Ukraine. We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.
It’s no secret that Trump loves to show off his planes. During the 2018 midterm elections, the president took to using Air Force One as a prop in his rallies, frequently parking it behind the stage. He spent an estimated $17 million flying the plane to more than 40 political rallies during the election cycle. In June, Trump giddily unveiled plans to redesign Air Force One with a red, white, and blue color scheme. Commentators noted that the new design looked uncannily similar to one on the private jet he owned before becoming president, which had been dubbed “Trump Force One.”