Trump’s White House Either Lied About Ukraine Anti-Corruption Call in April — or It’s Lying Now

In an initial readout from the April 21 call, the White House claimed Trump and Zelensky agreed to work together to “root out corruption.” That doesn't appear in the rough transcript Trump just released.
November 15, 2019, 4:08pm
New Call Transcript Contradicts Original White House Claim that Trump talked about Corruption on Zelensky’s First Call

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s first call with Ukraine’s new president last April touched on Trump’s 2016 election victory, “tasty” Ukrainian food, and how “well represented” Ukraine was at Trump’s Miss Universe pageants, according to a rough transcript released by the White House on Friday.

One thing Trump didn’t mention: corruption in Ukraine.

That glaring omission undercuts an initial White House readout summarizing that April 21 call, which claimed Trump and President Zelensky agreed to work together to “root out corruption.” (Though it’s worth noting that the veracity and completeness of even these rough transcripts have been called into question, including in sworn testimony from a top White House official.)

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Still, the absence of any mention of corruption in the call record released Friday undercuts the Republicans' claim that Trump only held up military aid to Ukraine because he was concerned about corruption in the country.

Read: Trump Just Released a Rough Transcript of His First Ukraine Call Where He Talked About Beauty Pageants

It also diverges sharply from the following July 25 call, during which in a far more transactional exchange, Zelensky raised the subject of buying American weapons and Trump responded by asking for the “favor” of investigations.

The discrepancy between the two dueling records of the April call appears to weaken one of the many arguments Republicans have thrown at the wall to defend Trump’s actions: That Trump only withheld aid because he was worried about corruption.

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, in walking back his admission of a quid pro quo, said “the rampant corruption in Ukraine” was one of only numerous reasons Trump held up the aid. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) exclaimed during Wednesday’s hearings that Ukraine was “one of the three most corrupt countries on the planet” so Trump said “time out, let’s check out this new guy” before releasing the aid.

When U.S. diplomats who’d attended Zelensky’s swearing-in came to brief Trump about the new leader on May 23, they sought to talk up his reformist and anti-corruption agenda. “He didn’t want to hear about it,” Sondland testified.

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Multiple people who were at that meeting or heard directly about it said Trump fumed that Ukraine was “out to get me” in 2016.

Yet it’s unclear how aggressively Trump’s aides pushed Ukraine on widespread corruption before the reformist Zelensky was elected, and afterwards the only thing they hammered on was investigations into the 2016 election and the role Joe Biden’s son played on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. The Trump administration also sought to cut foreign aid programs aimed at rooting out corruption in places like Ukraine.

Corruption isn’t the only thing the White House claimed Trump and Zelensky discussed back in April that’s missing from the rough transcript. The readout says the two leaders promised to work together to "strengthen democracy" and "increase prosperity" in Ukraine — both are absent from the rough record released Friday.

This call transcript isn’t anywhere near as problematic for Trump as the infamous one he released a month ago — which one witness to the call, National Security Council member Alexander Vindman, said left out some key details. But it further undercuts a defense Trump and his allies have tried to make.

Cover: President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)