WASHINGTON — Not to be overtaken by another day of potentially damaging impeachment inquiry testimony, President Trump released a rough summary of his April phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It's the second rough transcript of their conversations released by the White House, which appears to want to use the boringness of this second call as a shield against accusations of wrongdoing.
The rough text of the 16-minute call from April 21 amounts to mostly pleasantries between the two presidents, and appears likely to be used by the White House as evidence that Trump had no devious intentions with regard to his approach to Ukraine.
On the call, Trump praises previous Ukrainian delegations to his Miss Universe beauty pageant. Zelensky, meanwhile, invites Trump to taste his country’s “tasty” and “delicious” food.
The rough transcript reads like a boring sitcom compared to the infamous July 25 exchange that launched his impeachment inquiry over whether he was trying to improperly influence the 2020 election by pressuring a foreign country for dirt on a top Democratic contender.
On that call, Trump asked Zelensky to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden. After Zelensky raises the idea of purchasing more American anti-tank missiles for the country’s bloody conflict against Russia-backed separatists in its eastern regions, Trump responded by asking for a “favor” — investigations of Democrats.
The stakes appear much lower in the April call, at least according to the account that the White House released Friday: Zelensky invites Trump to attend Zelensky’s inauguration in May, a trip that Trump did not take.
But, as we now know based on extensive witness testimony, the temperature rose in subsequent months, as Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pressured the new Ukrainian administration to investigate Biden and a conspiracy theory related to the 2016 campaign that would have taken the blame off Russia for hacking Democratic emails.
One early sign of discomfort for Ukraine was Trump’s apparent disinterest in meeting with Zelensky — for a sit-down and photo opp Ukraine desperately wanted as a sign of international support.
In the weeks that followed, the Ukrainian side pressed the White House for a meeting with Trump to demonstrate continued U.S. support. But the Trump administration delayed any such visit while officials pressed Ukraine to announce investigations.
“I know how busy you are, but if it’s possible for you to come to the inauguration ceremony, that would be a great, great thing for you to do to be with us on that day,” Zelensky said.
“Well, that’s very nice,” Trump said. “I’ll look into that, and well — give us the date and, at a very minimum, we’ll have a great representative.”
The inauguration was ultimately attended by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The new text was released just as Trump’s former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, began her hotly-awaited testimony in the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, as if in some kind of rebuttal to witnesses called by House Democrats.
Moments after the White House release, a top Trump ally in Congress, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, quoted from the text in his opening statement to Yovanovitch's public hearing in an attempt to defend Trump.
The new call record is labeled as “not a verbatim transcript” and unclassified.
The next call, in July, was deemed so concerning by the top White House advisor for Ukraine, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, that he raised concerns about it with the top lawyer on the National Security Council, who reportedly moved it to a super-secure internal White House server reserved for matters of grave national security.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bossier City, La., Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)