On Friday morning, as the second day of public impeachment hearings began, the White House released a summary of a second, earlier conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While Trump has suggested the document would help clear him in the ongoing impeachment proceedings, it simply showed how eager Zelensky was to meet the American president, which actually could bolster the case that a White House meeting was part of a quid pro quo for the investigations the Trump administration sought from Ukraine.
According to the White House, the conversation between Trump and Zelensky took place on April 21, the day Zelensky was elected, about three months before the July 25 phone call that was flagged by an intelligence community whistleblower.
“I’d like to congratulate you on a job well done, and congratulations on a fantastic election,” Trump said, according to the document released by the White House.
“Good to hear from you. Thank you so very much,” Zelensky responded.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, read extensively from the April call record in his opening statement before the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
According to a summary of the July discussion that was released earlier by the White House, Trump urged the Ukrainian president to work with his allies, Attorney General Bill Barr and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to investigate the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine. Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
That July call between Trump and Zelensky is central to the ongoing impeachment hearings, which are focused on allegations that Trump pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate Biden, who is running for president in the 2020 election. Trump has repeatedly maintained that his July call with Zelensky was “perfect” and suggested that the release of this second discussion would strengthen that argument.
“They want to have a transcript of the other call, the [earlier] call, and I’m willing to provide that,” Trump said to reporters on Nov. 9. The document released Friday was a memorandum of the phone conversation, not a verbatim transcript.
The earlier call with Zelensky is not central to the impeachment hearings. American presidents routinely call foreign leaders following their elections, and the summary of the prior call reveals Trump doing that.
However, the document does show how eager Zelensky was to meet with the American president. The impeachment hearings are being held to investigate whether Trump held out the possibility of a White House meeting as an inducement for the Ukrainians to investigate Biden, and withheld military aid as a form of pressure. In the April phone conversation, Zelensky said he would like to “invite” Trump to Ukraine “if it’s possible.”
He said the U.S. president would enjoy “how tasty and delicious” Ukrainian food is.
“Well that’s very nice. I’ll look into that,” Trump said.
The summary of the July 25 call was released by the White House in September, the day after House Democrats announced an impeachment inquiry. That document, which was also not a verbatim transcript, shows Trump encouraging Zelensky to talk with his allies about a potential Biden probe.
Trump has repeatedly suggested that the “transcript” of his “perfect” call with Zelensky showed him behaving properly. He also implied the content of the earlier call would be exonerating.
Trump has said his push for a Biden probe was part of an effort to root out corruption in Ukraine. The White House press summary of the April call, a paragraph typically distributed to reporters after the president speaks with a foreign leader, said Trump sought to work with Zelensky to implement reforms that “strengthen democracy, increase prosperity and root out corruption.” The memo released Friday makes no mention of corruption.
In a series of tweets posted in the early hours of Friday morning, Trump suggested Ukrainian officials made clear that American financial assistance was not linked to an investigation of Biden.
“Democrats must apologize to USA,” Trump wrote.
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