On Friday morning, as the second House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearing with former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was about to begin, the White House released a summary transcript of President Donald Trump’s first phone call, from April, with the then–newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to the document, the two presidents mostly discussed Zelensky’s victory and the possibility of visiting each others’ countries. Trump at one point seemed to praise Ukraine by noting, “When I owned Miss Universe, they [Ukraine] always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented.” The April call appears to be much briefer and more restrained than the subsequent July call, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and which has become the focus of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Republicans have been touting the document as evidence that Trump had committed no wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine. Earlier in the week, Trump teased the release of the summary, tweeting, “I will be releasing the transcript of the first, and therefore more important, phone call with the Ukrainian President before week’s end!” California Rep. Devin Nunes, ranking Republican member on the House Intelligence Committee, in fact read the entire summary of the call during his opening statement for Friday’s impeachment hearing.
It is unclear why, as Trump contended, the chronology of the calls would dispel the abuse of power allegations. There is also nothing in the April call that counters the questionable behavior Trump exhibited in the July call or any subsequent testimony and evidence about his attempts to pressure Ukraine into investigating a political rival. (Beyond the official statements diplomats have given as witnesses in the House inquiry, this evidence includes the text messages between State Department officials about the discussions and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s statements on them.) It is possible, instead, that Trump had a noneventful call in April, and then abused his power in another call three months later.
What’s more, the rough transcript conflicts with how the White House initially described the interaction in April. A readout that the administration provided to reporters mere hours after the call states:
President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyy to congratulate him on his victory in Ukraine’s April 21 election. The President wished him success and called the election an important moment in Ukraine’s history, noting the peaceful and democratic manner of the electoral process. President Trump underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – within its internationally recognized borders – and 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.
Nowhere in the summary that the White House released on Friday does Trump bring up corruption, sovereignty, territorial integrity, democratic reforms, or prosperity. So either the White House’s initial readout fabricated details about the call, or the rough transcript is incomplete.
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