How much is missing from Ukraine transcript? Former officials point to ellipses, "odd markings"

Current and former U.S. officials tell Washington Post the Zelensky transcript has likely been heavily edited

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 3, 2019 4:01PM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky  (Getty Images/AP Photo/Salon)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky (Getty Images/AP Photo/Salon)

Current and former federal officials say that “odd markings” and the suspicious use of ellipses suggests that the partial White House transcript of President Trump’s July 25 Ukraine call may have been edited before it was released, The Washington Post reports.

Trump has repeatedly lied about the rough transcript, which is a “memorandum of a telephone conversation” based on notes taken by administration staff.

“This is an exact word-for-word transcript of the conversation, taken by very talented stenographers,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, describing it as a “word-for-word, comma-for-comma” account.

But the first page of the memo specifically says that it is “not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.”

Current and former government officials told the Post that even the memo’s partial transcript looks like it may have been edited before being released.

The officials told the outlet that the document includes several uses of ellipses, even though they “traditionally have not appeared in summaries of presidential calls with foreign leaders.”

The ellipses appear to only have been used in parts where Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and help discredit the Russia investigation.

Two instances in which ellipses were used were in a paragraph where Trump referred to CrowdStrike, a security firm at the heart of his debunked conspiracy theory that the Democratic National Committee faked the Russian hack into their network. 

“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it,” the memo quoted Trump as saying.

Another use of ellipses came during Trump’s request for Zelensky to investigate Biden.

“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me,” the document quoted Trump as saying.

After the release of the memo, a White House source told the Associated Press that the ellipses were only used to “refer to a trailing off of a voice or pause.”

Current and former officials told the Post that would be a break from how these memos have been handled in the past, when such instances were marked as “[inaudible],” as the disclaimer on the first page of the memo suggests. When parts of a sentence were not fully understood, note-takers would mark them with dashes.

The length of the call has also been called into question. The document claims to summarize a 30-minute call but Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told CNN that staffers in his office read the exchange out loud and clocked it at under 11 minutes, nearly 20 minutes shorter than the length described by the document.

“Our motivating question was: How much don't we know?” King said. “There has to be an inquiry to get to the facts."

The call between Trump and Zelensky measured at about 65 words per minute. Transcripts of Trump’s calls have been released in the past. A 24-minute call with then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came in at 133 words per minute, while a 53-minute call with then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, using interpreters, clocked in at 102 words per minute. It’s unclear if the Zelensky call took place with simultaneous interpretation or if interpreters spoke after the participants had finished speaking. The latter could have affected the length of the discussion.

Officials also cited “odd markings” on the partial transcript. For one, the transcript lacked a tracking number that indicates it had been circulated to senior officials for review. Instead of a “package” number, the memo released by the White House said “PkgNumberShort.”

The document also included classification markings that Situation Room officers do not typically use when creating a word-for-word transcript.

“I thought to myself, ‘This didn’t go through the normal process,’ ” a former federal official told the Post.

The whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry into Trump wrote in his complaint that senior White House officials “intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript.”

The Post’s sources said that the White House produces a word-for-word transcript made by the White House Situation Room and an edited summary.

“The one that was released is not the one the Situation Room created,” one source told the paper. “That’s just not possible.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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