[13:50: Corrects to include DoJ statement that AG Barr has not spoken to Trump or to Giuliani about any prospective investigation by Ukraine into the Bidens]
The transcript of Donald Trump’s controversial July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky doesn’t contain an explicit quid pro quo.
That said, the account of the call, declassified on Trump’s orders, most assuredly does prove that the US president pressured Zelensky to pursue a reinvigorated investigation into the former vice president and his son, Hunter.
“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”, Trump told Zelensky.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. It sounds horrible to me”, he continued.
The prosecutor who Biden successfully went after did have jurisdiction over probes into the oligarch whose company paid the younger Biden, but the vice president’s efforts were entirely in keeping with official US policy at the time, not to mention in line with the international community’s anti-corruption stance.
One would be entirely justified in harboring skepticism about the idea that the elder Biden had no conception of the extent to which the whole thing was a net positive for a family member. Indeed, we know the Obama administration was wary of the potential conflict and we also know that Biden warned his son to make sure “you know what you’re doing” in Ukraine.
But to reiterate, there is no evidence to support the contention that Biden’s efforts to have the prosecutor in question removed were primarily motivated by a desire to enrich his son.
On the July call, Trump implored Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani and William Barr on the probe of the Bidens. Let that sink in. The President of the United States asked a foreign government to conspire with his personal attorney and America’s top law enforcement official to probe a US citizen and his family.
“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”, Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart. “I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General”, he continued, adding that “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great”.
Giuliani has been back-channeling for months in a bid to convince Ukraine to go after the Bidens. You can read more on those efforts here.
While there was no overt mention of US aid being tied to the prospective investigation, Trump did mention Ukraine’s economy in the same breath as he told Zelensky to expect calls from Giuliani and Barr. To wit:
I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. Your economy is going to get better and better I predict.
Don’t let it be lost on you that Trump is said to have ordered a halt on military aid to the country just a week before this call took place.
“Administration officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of an ‘interagency process’ but to give them no additional information – a pattern that continued for nearly two months, until the White House released the funds on the night of September 11”, the Washington Post reported on Monday, adding that “former national security adviser John Bolton wanted to release the money to Ukraine because he thought it would help the country while curtailing Russian aggression but Trump has said he was primarily concerned with corruption”.
The transcript isn’t a “smoking gun”, per se, but it most assuredly is unnerving. It unquestionably shows that Trump is pressuring a foreign government to investigate the presumptive (well, “presumptive” until the most recent polls, anyway) Democratic presidential nominee with the help of his personal attorney and the US department of justice.
DoJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec says Barr has not spoken to Trump or to Giuliani about Ukraine investigating Joe Biden or his son.
Trump is attempting to spin this as somehow exculpatory. “Will the Democrats apologize after seeing what was said on the call with the Ukrainian President?”, he asked. “They should, a perfect call – got them by surprise!”
That’s probably true. Americans (Democrats and Republicans alike) are perpetually caught “by surprise” when they learn what Trump says behind closed doors.
The transcript of the call reads like a classic mob shakedown:
â€“ We do a lot for Ukraine
â€“ Thereâ€™s not much reciprocity
â€“ I have a favor to ask
â€“ Investigate my opponent
â€“ My people will be in touch
Nice country you got there.
It would be a shame if something happened to her.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) September 25, 2019