If one call can change your destiny, this might be the one for President Donald Trump: After a conversation he had on July 25, he’s facing a constitutional crisis the U.S. has seen only three other times in its history. Yep, we’re talking about impeachment.
During the now-infamous call, Trump asked Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. That ask came to light after a whistle-blower filed a complaint about a potential act of treason at the President’s hands, which resulted in calls for impeachment from well over 170 Representatives. After a closed-door meeting between Democratic party leaders, those calls turned into real action when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially filed a formal impeachment inquiry of the President on Tuesday (September 24).
The day after Pelosi filed the impeachment inquiry, Trump released a memorandum of what was said during the call between himself and Zelensky. We read it, and we have some questions.
1. Why wasn’t there an exact transcript?
According to the Washington Post, this is just how the White House does business. The last time the president recorded phone calls was during Richard Nixon’s presidency, which led to his downfall. Now, politicians rely heavily on notetakers.
A transcript is a direct copy of a recorded call, but this memorandum isn’t that: Basically, notetakers were there during the conversation and took an informal report or message of the call. That means we don’t know every little thing that took place between Trump and Zelensky — we just know what the notetaker put down.
2. Why were there so many copy errors?
Incomplete sentences are expected. After all, it is a phone call, and people don’t typically speak the same way they write. But misspelling Zelensky? Misusing semicolons? Typing ensure when you surely mean assure? Literally make it make sense.
3. What does Crowdstrike have to do with any of this?
Crowdstrike was a cybersecurity firm that conducted an analysis of the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election and found that the hack was at the hands of two groups connected to the Russian government. During the call, Trump said: “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike.”
It’s still pretty unclear why Trump was referencing the firm in the first place, but he went on to add: “I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people.”
4. Is Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, even allowed to be involved here?
It’s not totally clear what, if anything, Giuliani did on Trump’s behalf. Zelensky first brought up Giuliani to Trump, telling him: “I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.”
Trump then complimented the former mayor of New York City and asked Zelensky to work with Giuliani to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
This is important for a few reasons: Namely that Giuliani hasn’t acted like a typical presidential lawyer. He’s been Trump’s friend, surrogate, confidant, and minder. More than that, though, is that Giuliani could get in a lot of criminal trouble for this conversation since he’s Trump’s personal lawyer and doesn’t have governmental protections. NBC News points out that Giuliani could be in violation of the Logan Act, for attempting to intervene without authorization in disputes between the U.S. and foreign governments. He’s also slipping into the potential of some serious federal criminal bribery and extortion conspiracy, NBC News reported.
For his own part, Giuliani told Fox and Friends on Wednesday (September 25) morning that the transcript was read to him and he’s pretty much cool with it.
5. What does the U.S. Attorney General William Barr have to do with all of this?
It’s unclear. What we do know is that Trump asked Zelensky to contact Barr about opening a potential corruption investigation of Biden and his son, after Trump accused the former Vice President of using his position to help a Ukranian energy company — the same company that was paying Hunter Biden — by pushing to oust a Ukranian prosecutor, according to the New York Times. There’s currently no evidence that either Joe or Hunter did anything illegal.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump claimed. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution os if you could look into iot… it sounds horrible to me.”
But, according to the New York Times, the Justice Department said Wednesday (September 25) that Barr has never spoken with Trump about working with Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, that he had no idea Trump told Zelensky to contact him, and that he had never spoken with Giuliani about “anything related to Ukraine.”
6. Who is the former ambassador they seem to dislike so much?
“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that,” Trump said on page 4 of the memorandum, referring to his former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. According to the Washington Post, Yovanovich, who was outspoken about cracking down on corruption in Ukraine, was recalled just two months before her scheduled departure date — Democrats called it a “political hit job.” She had served in Republican and Democratic administrations and was the American ambassador to Ukraine for nearly three years, Foreign Policy reported.
Zelensky apparently also didn’t like Yovanovich: “It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100 percent,” Zelensky said. “Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side.”
7. Why all the compliments?
Trump to Zelensky: “Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States and you did a terrific job… It’s a fantastic achievement.”
Zelensky to Trump: “I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership.”
Zelensky to Trump: “We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.”
And, perhaps the most egregious of them all, Zelensky told Trump that the last time he visited New York, he “stayed at the Trump Tower.”
8. Is it really, as Senator and former Trump adversary Lindsey Graham called it, a “nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger”?
Not really. Trump may have asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and also the 2016 DNC email hack, but he didn’t blatantly offer something in return. Even though the Trump administration had been withholding nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, neither Trump nor Zelensky mentioned it during the conversation.
Trump does say: “I would like you to do us a favor though,” immediately after Zelensky thanks him for being a “bigger partner” than the European Union. In fact, he reminds Zelensky about half a dozen times that the U.S. has been “very, very good to Ukraine.” This is significant because Trump is known for speaking like a mob boss, and reinforcing to the Ukrainian government that Trump’s decisions, like whether or not to assist the country, could be tied to how well they treat each other. It’s suggestive, to say the least, that Trump talks about how great the U.S. is to Ukraine as he asks the Ukranian government to perform an investigation on his behalf.
9. Does this exonerate Trump?
Zelensky signs off saying: “I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation.”
The Bidens have yet to release a statement about the phone call or impeachment proceedings.