WASHINGTON — The White House is trying everything it can to downplay the fact that President Trump asked a foreign leader to investigate one of his political rivals.
And it accidentally tipped its hand Wednesday on its strategy for doing that, blasting a lengthy list of the GOP’s talking points on Ukraine to Democrats in the House.
After realizing its mistake, communications staff at the White House reportedly emailed all of the Democrats’ offices asking to “recall” the email. Both the initial email and news of its recall were first reported by Politico.
Titled “What You Need to Know | President Trump’s Call with President Zelenskyy,” the document outlines a half-dozen Republican talking points that respond to revelations that Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July to "look into” the conduct of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Those revelations, coupled with evidence that Trump may have withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid as part of his effort to persuade Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to announce on Tuesday a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.
The White House’s talking points seek to address the scandal by downplaying their significance, arguing that Trump didn’t act improperly during his call with Zelensky, and that the Department of Justice “determined that no further action was warranted.”
“What the president actually talked about was entirely proper,” one subtitle reads. Underneath it, it says, “It is entirely appropriate for the President to ask a foreign leader to investigate any connection between his country and attempted interference in the 2016 election.”
“The real scandal here,” another talking point says, “is that leaks about a second-hand account of the President’s confidential telephone call with a foreign leader triggered a media frenzy of false accusations against the President and forced the President to release the transcript.”
“The country has already been put through over two years of investigation by the special counsel into a phony Russian collusion story, six months of congressional investigations into the same issue, and now Democrats want to trigger a new round of investigations into fake accusations,” that talking point continues.
On Wednesday morning, the White House published a memorandum that contains a rough transcript of the July call between Trump and Zelensky.
Its talking points document argues that, because the memorandum doesn’t contain an explicit quid pro quo — that is, that Trump didn’t explicitly offer Ukraine aid in exchange for an investigation into Biden — Trump didn’t behave inappropriately.
The document also argues that the appropriate investigatory bodies, like the Justice Department, reviewed and vetted the complaints submitted against Trump by a whistleblower in the intelligence community.
But the DOJ’s actions, which effectively prevented the whistleblower’s complaint from reaching Congress, are now likely to come under heavy scrutiny. And federal law prohibits Americans from asking for, or accepting, a thing of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.
Paul Seamus Ryan, former deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, has argued that proving a full-on, explicit, this-for-that exchange between Trump and Zelensky isn’t necessary to show that campaign law was broken.
“Whether or not Ukraine came through, whether or not the communications involved a quid pro quo, the solicitation of a thing of value from the Ukraine President in connection with a U.S. election could be a federal crime,” he wrote on the legal blog Just Security on Monday.
Cover: President Donald Trump talks while meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)