Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Donald Trump (Genya Savilov/Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Discrepancies in Trump's initial call with Zelensky under scrutiny

A summary shows Trump's call with Ukraine's leader doesn't mention "corruption," despite the White House's claims


Shira Tarlo
November 15, 2019 10:03PM (UTC)

The White House released a transcript Friday of President Donald Trump's initial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an apparent effort to bolster the case that Trump had not done anything improper in his communications with Ukraine, the subject of the House impeachment inquiry. However, that strategy largely failed.

The transcript of Trump's April 21 call with his Ukrainian counterpart was released moments before former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch began testifying before Congress. It contained some of the problematic demands from a later phone call and suggested that Trump was interested in developing some kind of a rapport with Zelensky, whom he would later ask to investigate his political rivals.

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"When you're settled in and ready, I'd like to invite you to the White House. We'll have a lot of things to talk about, but we're with you all the way," Trump said, according to a rough summary of the call.

The summary of the call was released nearly two months after Trump first promised to make it public. He told supporters in September that he was looking forward to releasing it, suggesting that he believed it would boost his claims of innocence as an impeachment inquiry escalates on Capitol Hill.

The call, which took place hours after Zelensky clinched the presidency in Ukraine, is mostly congratulatory.

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"I think you will do a great job. I have many friends in Ukraine who know you and like you," Trump said. "I have friends from Ukraine and they think — frankly — expected you to win. And it's really an amazing thing that you've done."

The tone is warmer than the July 25 call between the pair, during which Trump asked Zelensky to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. That second call is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

In the April call, after Zelensky praised the Ukrainian people, Trump recalled his time running the Miss Universe competitions and notes that Ukraine always had "great people" and was "very well represented."

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Zelensky then invited Trump to his inauguration, and Trump responded that he will look into the idea. If he cannot come, Trump said, "we will have somebody, at a minimum, at a very, very high level, and they will be with you." Vice President Mike Pence was originally tapped to attend but was later replaced by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Notably, the summary released Friday does not mention corruption, even though a readout from the White House issued in April hours after the call claimed that the two leaders discussed implementing "reforms that strengthened democracy, increase prosperity and root out corruption."

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The April and July calls are labeled differently, suggesting that they were handled differently at the White House. The first call was labeled as "unclassified" and "for official use only," while the second was identified as "secret."

Trump first raised the possibility of releasing the log of his April phone call with Zelensky on Sept. 25, insisting it would undercut claims claims by Democrats that he sought to leverage a potential White House meeting and millions in military aid approved by Congress to pressure Zelensky to commit publicly to investigations that would benefit him politically.

Trump has repeatedly cited concerns about corruption in Ukraine as his rationale for investigations into the Biden family and the 2016 election. But the transcript of Trump’s April call with Zelensky, which notes that it is not a "verbatim" account of the conversation, does not even mention the word "corruption."

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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