Sep 25, 2019

The call heard 'round the world

Unclassifed memo of Trump-Ukraine phone call
Photo:Wayne Partlow/AP

Some members of Congress on Wednesday gained access to the classified whistleblower report hours after the release of a summary of the Trump-Ukraine phone call that led to Democrats launching a formal impeachment probe.

The big picture: There is no explicit Trump promise to Ukraine in exchange for dirt or investigations in the phone call memo released today, but it's easy to read it and understand why a whistleblower would have been concerned by the conversation.

  • U.S. presidents don't normally ask other world leaders to intervene in American politics — especially immediately after being asked about next steps for securing military aid from the U.S.

In the call, President Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak with Rudy Giuliani — who works for Trump, not the U.S. government — and Attorney General Bill Barr.

  • Trump asked for Ukraine's help on 2016 election interference: "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."
  • And he urged investigation into the Biden family: "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."

Sometime in August, the director of national intelligence referred a whistleblower complaint involving a conversation between Trump and Zelensky to the Justice Department to investigate as a possible campaign finance violation.

  • DOJ declined to further investigate, stating after a review that "there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted."
  • The Justice Department denies that Trump ever spoke with Barr about having Ukraine investigate Biden and says Barr has never discussed this matter with Giuliani.

Between the lines: Media reports last week said a whistleblower came forward in alarm after a "promise" was made on a phone call between Trump and a world leader, the WashPost first reported.

  • A promise isn't clear in the non-verbatim memo out today. But the whistleblower report isn't public and we don't know whether other calls or exchanges happened that are in the report.
  • We also don't know the extent of exchanges between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials — although Ukraine's president noted their existence in the call.

What they're saying:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The transcript and the Justice Department's acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry."
  • Trump on Pelosi: "As far as I’m concerned, unfortunately, she’s no longer the speaker of the House."

Go deeper: Read the memo

Go deeper