The White House released on Wednesday the rough transcript of a July phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the U.S. president appears to solicit dirt about his potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, from the foreign leader.
The move to release the phone call — which is not a verbatim transcript and is constructed instead from notes from officials who were present during the call — was a defensive one by the Trump administration. Trump's conversations with Zelensky had come under scrutiny after a whistleblower raised concerns about their calls, prompting House Democrats to announce intended impeach proceedings against the sitting president on Tuesday for what would be only the fourth time in U.S. history.
"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call," Trump had insisted ahead of the transcript's release. "No pressure."
Here are the seven craziest moments from their conversation. (You can read the full White House transcript here.)
1. An offer he can't refuse?
Zelensky: "...we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes."
Trump: "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."
President Trump and his allies have insisted that there was no quid pro quo with President Zelensky, and according to the White House's transcript, that's true — at least explicitly. But in this section, when Zelensky mentions America's "great support in the area of defense" and expresses interest in a weapons deal with the U.S., Trump seizes the opportunity to ask Ukraine for a "favor."
This could be a key section in the coming weeks, because in the days before Trump's phone call with Zelensky, the president had instructed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to delay some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, The Washington Post reports. So while Trump doesn't outright tell Zelensky, "I'll give you your military aid if you investigate a few areas of interest for me," it seems likely that Zelensky understands the implicit suggestion here.
2. But the emails.
Trump: "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. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation."
The first favor Trump asks involves Crowdstrike, the internet security company that discovered the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee's servers to be linked to the Russians. Trump "seems to suggest Hillary Clinton's private email server is in Ukraine and asserts that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation started with that country," The Washington Post explains.
And about those ellipses — a White House official clarified that they indicate a pause or break in Trump's speech, not missing words.
3. Doing the dirty work.
Trump: "I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it."
President Trump repeatedly pushes Zelensky to be in touch with Attorney General William Barr in coordinating Ukraine's investigations into areas of interest for Trump. He also frequently pushes the Ukrainian president to coordinate with his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
4. 'So if you can look into it ...'
Trump: "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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … it sounds horrible to me."
Trump explicitly brings up former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, with the Ukrainian president, and presses him for more information.
Trump's inquiry stems from the younger Biden joining the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings in 2014, despite never having held a similar position or worked in the industry before. While the company was already under investigation when Hunter Biden joined the board, Trump and his allies have pushed a rumor that Joe Biden used his clout as then-vice president to stop an investigation into Burisma Holdings to protect his son, although there is no evidence to support Trump's theories.
With Joe Biden running for president and leading in many Democratic primary polls, Trump is asking a foreign leader for dirt on his potential opponent. Trump has defended his conversation, saying what he was actually doing "was largely [about] the fact that we don't want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine."
5. Ukrainian justice.
Zelensky: "The next prosecutor general will be 100 percent my person ... He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue."
While even Republicans think Trump looks bad in this transcript, it's important to note that Zelensky is also receptive to Trump's pushes, assuring the U.S. president that his next prosecutor general will be able to follow up on Trump's requests.
6. That doesn't sound good.
Trump: "Well, she's going to go through some things."
After Zelensky complains that the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, "admired the previous president and she was on his side" and "would not accept me as the new president," Trump replies "well, she's going to go through some things," which sounds like a veiled threat of retaliation, Crooked Media's Brian Beutler points out.
7. One more for the road.
Zelensky: "Actually last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower."
Zelensky concludes the call with Trump by offering a bit of flattery, noting that he chose to stay at "Trump Tower" (possibly the Trump International Hotel) during his last visit to New York. While it is far less damning than many other parts of the transcript, this comment could potentially be of interest to investigators in the emoluments cases against the president.
It additionally proves Zelensky is eager to please Trump and adds to the sense that there is much more being suggested here than initially meets the eye.