On September 24th, 2019, a memo was released by the White House, purporting to contain the details of a phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Considering the
alleged lengths to which the White House went to hide the details of this call, it is reasonable to question if any parts have been omitted here.
Update: The White House now confirms that they did take those steps to conceal the call, by moving the record to a secret server.
If it comes out that certain portions of Trump’s part of the conversation were excluded, those portions should be subject to intense scrutiny. That being said, what is contained in that memo caused Zelensky to state, “I personally think that sometimes such calls between presidents of independent countries should not be published. I just thought that they would publish their part.”
He did not declare that his part was false. He expressed his concern over the release of what he said. Moreover, the White House would have little reason to omit any of Zelensky’s words, as he is not their primary concern.
With all this in mind, a deep dive into these developments and the context therein is in order.
The first item to address is Zelensky’s use of the phrase ‘independent countries’ in the aforementioned statement. This public address cannot be assumed to be unplanned. He surely thought out what he would say in advance, whether on his own or with his staff. He continued this theme during his press conference with Trump on Wednesday, by repeatedly using the phrase “independent country.” This is a clear message he wants to push. But that phrase does not comport with the content of that phone call.
For instance, Zelensky proclaimed, “I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us.”
To emphasize, he didn’t say “we have nobody but friends around us.” He said, “you have nobody but friends around us.” These are not the sort of words one would expect to hear from the president of another nation. He goes even further, by assuring Trump that he will be installing another friend into the prosecutor general position. This friend would then investigate the baseless matters that Trump was asking to be investigated for his own political gain.
To be clear, there is a factor which Trump is partly relying upon as a bargaining chip, per previous reporting and the transcript. He is partly using military aid and Ukraine’s continuing need for Javelin missiles as leverage. Worth noting, a previous episode involving Javelin missiles also happened to coincide with Ukraine dropping ongoing investigations into Paul Manafort back in 2018.
Update on 10/2/2019: Poroshenko now confirms that he met with Rudy Giuliani in 2017 to discuss “investments.” He did not elaborate, but one could classify military aid in the form of Javelins as an investment. It seems possible that this might explain how Ukraine knew that investigating Manafort might spoil relations with the top American officials.
“In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,” Mr. Ariev said in an interview. “We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.”
End of 10/2/2019 update.
This leverage does not explain away Zelensky’s statements. He could have diplomatically and vaguely stated that the matters would be considered. Instead, he voluntarily made unnecessary concrete promises that went far beyond mere diplomacy.
Beyond that, he also declared without prompting that “we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country.” He concluded that commentary by stating that “You are a great teacher for us and in that.” If Zelensky and one of Trump’s most loyal cabinet members swapped places, would there be much difference in rhetoric?
Most importantly, after making all these very concrete declarations, he did not follow up with Trump on the military aid and the Javelins. If the purpose of any of those declarations was to play along to get an assurance from Trump on those matters, he would have broached those topics again before the end of the call. He did not even attempt to do that.
This was not diplomacy. He declared in no uncertain terms that Ukraine was being run by friends of Trump and that he would task his future prosecutor general to investigate Trump’s baseless allegations. He even asked Trump to provide additional information to further help with an investigation.
Donald Trump and Zelensky secretly and corruptly conspired to help Trump’s political aims. Trump asked for a favor and Zelensky went into detail on how he would execute that. Then the White House allegedly hid the evidence of that phone call.
In the coming weeks and months, there will likely be ongoing efforts to normalize Trump conspiring with the Ukrainian president. As a matter of fact, Zelensky has already engaged in attempts to normalize this by stating that “No, you heard that we had good phone call. It was normal, we spoke about many things. I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed me.”
This makes sense, considering that he was a very willing participant in a corrupt conspiracy against our democracy. He did not need a push.
These corrupt acts are not acceptable. They not normal. If Senate Republicans refuse to hold him to account, that will not be normal, either. However likely that outcome might be with much of the current batch of Republican Senators, it is still not normal or justifiable.
There remains a means to resolve this matter. The same process that put this man in office will be the one that removes him. But it cannot stop with him. Those elected officials who have constantly enabled him and ignored the Constitution to do so must also be voted out. It may take a few years to expel most of them from office, but it is a goal worth setting. Because those folks will surely enable the next Trump, if given the chance.