The White House on Friday released a document summarizing President Donald Trump’s first phone call with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in April of this year, seeking to bolster its claim that Trump did nothing wrong in his dealings with the Eastern European leader.
The tone of the call, which was blasted out moments before ousted Ukrainian ambassador Marie Yovanovitch began testifying in the second impeachment hearing, was much more congratulatory and took place hours after Zelenskiy’s historic landslide election.
It was also significantly shorter than the July 25 call at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.
The second call between the two leaders, during which Trump asked Zelenskiy to do him a “favor” and investigate his political opponents, lasted close to half an hour, while the first call lasted just half that time. According to the White House memorandum of the call, the conversation took place in the late afternoon aboard Air Force One.
Trump begins the call by congratulating Zelenskiy on a “fantastic election,” agreeing that Zelenskiy’s unlikely victory was similar to his own in 2016 after Zelenskiy tells the president he used Trump as “a great example” for his campaign.
“I have no doubt you will be a fantastic president,” Trump said, according to the rough transcript, prompting Zelenskiy to invite Trump to his inauguration and telling him he needs to experience Ukraine himself.
Trump then responds by recalling his time running the Miss Universe pageant, remarking that Ukraine “always had great people” at the event.
Shortly after the White House document was released, Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence committee, read it live during his opening statement of the impeachment inquiry. Chairman Adam Schiff quickly rebutted that while he was glad Trump released the memo, he also would like the administration to release the slew of documents the panel had subpoenaed for the investigation.
The readout of the April call makes no mention of investigations Trump eventually sought into the Biden family and events surrounding the 2016 election, a focal point of the impeachment inquiry. Although at that point, former Vice President Joe Biden had not yet officially announced his candidacy for president.
Several administration officials have testified in closed-door depositions with House impeachment investigators that they eventually came to see mentions of investigating “corruption” in Ukraine as code for the Biden and 2016 election investigations.
Though the revelation of what occurred during the July 25 call was the catalyst for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to initiate impeachment proceedings, the conversation has only been one facet of the investigation. The probe has also uncovered a shadow diplomacy effort and pressure campaign directed toward Ukraine.
At the beginning of the April call, Zelenskiy emphasized that “we in Ukraine are an independent country,” a theme that underscores much of the discomfort with the shadow campaign.
Trump has hailed the July 25 call as “perfect,” claiming that it alone exonerates him and demanding on Twitter on a near-daily basis that his critics “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” But in a tweet teasing the release of the first call, Trump asserted the April conversation, being the first between the two leaders, was the “most important.”
“I am sure you will find it tantalizing!” he added.
Shortly after the July 25 call, White House officials, having been alerted to concerns about Trump’s request for political investigations, reportedly took the highly unusual step of placing its summary of the conversation in a server meant for classified information. There is no indication it took the same step with the April call.
But according to testimony from one White House official who listened to both calls, the first was well-received.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who serves as the National Security Council’s director for Ukraine, testified to House investigators that the tone of the April 21 call was “significantly different” than that of the July call, according to a transcript of the deposition released last week. Whereas Vindman described the April call as “very positive” and “very good,” prompting high fives among those that listened, he characterized Trump’s tone in the July call as “dour.”
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