President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shake hands during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shake hands during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. [Saul Loeb | AFP via Getty Images]

The White House Released A Log Of Trump’s First Call with Zelenskiy

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President Trump’s refrain of “read the transcript” just turned plural with the release of a second rough call log with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. This one is from a brief, 16-minute congratulatory call Trump made to Ukraine’s leader on April 21.

“That was an incredible election,” Trump said on the call which he took from Air Force One. “I think you will do a great job. I have many friends in Ukraine who know you and like you.”

The new call log release was timed to coincide with the start of the House impeachment inquiry’s second day of public hearings. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, read the transcript out loud, into the hearing record.

In September, the White House had released the rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, which is at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment push.

The April call happened the night of Zelenskiy’s election win and, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry, the comedian-turned-politician was in a joking mood. Trump was upbeat, too. Trump even mentioned the Miss Universe pageant, which he used to own, saying Ukrainians always had great people.

In one serious moment, Zelenskiy emphasized Ukraine’s independence.

“We are an independent country, and independent Ukraine — we’re going to do everything for the people,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy invited Trump to attend his inauguration and to visit his country to see it for himself. Trump said he would be sure to send “a great representative” to the event.

And then Trump invited Zelenskiy to the White House, an invitation Trump still hasn’t followed through on. “When you’re settled in and ready, I’d like to invite you to the White House,” Trump said. We’ll have a lot of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way.”

Actually setting a date for that White House meeting would become a central thread in what witnesses have described as a pressure campaign by Trump and his allies to get Zelenskiy to launch investigations that would benefit Trump politically. During the July call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

Those investigations were never launched, and Zelenskiy still hasn’t gotten his Oval Office meeting, although Ukraine’s leader did meet with Trump at the United Nations General Assembly in late September.

After Nunes read the letter into the record, House intelligence chairman Adam Schiff said he thanked Trump for releasing the document – but urged the White House to release other documents and records that the committee had subpoenaed.

The White House said that the release demonstrated Trump had nothing to hide. “The President took the unprecedented steps to declassify and release the transcripts of both of his phone calls with President Zelenskiy so that every American can see he did nothing wrong,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

But the rough transcript differs from what the White House had originally said about the call in a brief readout it provided to reporters on April 21. That readout said Trump had emphasized the U.S. support for Ukraine, which has been fighting over territory with Russia, and referred to Ukraine’s effort to address corruption. The call log does not reflect either of those issues.

“President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyy to congratulate him on his victory in Ukraine’s April 21 election. The President wished him success and called the election an important moment in Ukraine’s history, noting the peaceful and democratic manner of the electoral process. President Trump underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – within its internationally recognized borders – and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption,” the White House said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy between its original readout and the call log.

The rough call log released by the White House hews closely to how it was described in closed-door testimony by a National Security Council official who was on the call.

“[Trump] repeatedly praised President Zelensky for the significant landslide victory he had achieved,” Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top specialist on Ukraine at the National Security Council, said in a closed-door testimony last month. Vindman listened in on both the April and July calls as they happened.

“The call was positive,” said Vindman of the April call. “The President expressed his desire to work with President Zelenskiy and extended an invitation to visit the White House.”

Trump now says the April call is the “more important” of the two.

It was also the more mundane one. Vindman testified that the contrast between the calls was striking and rapidly apparent. “The atmospherics, the tone, indicated that [the July 25 conversation] was not going to be as positive a call as the April 21st call,” Vindman said.

In releasing the April rough transcript, there is a risk Trump could put the differences between the two calls in stark relief. Trump that has insisted his July conversation with Ukraine’s leader was “perfect,” though few have been willing to publicly agree with him.

The question of whether to release the April call log has lingered since late September when Trump released the July call log.

“I’ll release that too, if it’s important to you,” Trump said of the April call in a news conference on the day the White House put out the July log.

Only after House Democrats scheduled public hearings in the impeachment inquiry did Trump start teasing a release of the April 21 call.

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