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Impeachment Today Podcast: The Trump-Ukraine Transcript That Isn't Really A Transcript

In today's episode: It turns out that the transcript of Donald Trump's call with the Ukrainian president....isn't really a transcript?

Posted on October 30, 2019, at 11:32 a.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

It's Wednesday, October 30th, 2019, 36 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

In today's episode: It turns out that the transcript of Donald Trump's call with the Ukrainian president....isn't really a transcript? According to a current member of Trump's National Security Council, some important words were removed β€” and his attempts to get them added back in were rejected. We've got our Congressional Reporter Addy Baird here to talk us through the transcript, including a dramatic re-enactment of the key scenes.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown coming to you from BuzzFeed News World Headquarters in New York City. This is Impeachment Today.

President Trump has suggested that the transcript of his call with the President of Ukraine is perfect and showed he did nothing wrong. So we're going to read you the highlights of that "perfect call" and tell you why that's not really the case.

BuzzFeed News' Addie Baird joined me from DC for that later. But before we get to all that, let's go over what we know so far and get caught up on what went down yesterday.

In July, Donald Trump asked the Ukrainian president to get dirt on Joe Biden, one of his likely opponents in the 2020 election. The White House released a transcript of this phone call mostly. More on that in a second.

Congress is now investigating whether Trump was using hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid as a bargaining chip to get the political favors he wanted.

Whew. Okay. Now, here's what happened yesterday. It's been a minute since a new cycle has been so dominated by one name that isn't Donald Trump. Instead, it was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman who was the talk of Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The White House staffer in charge of Russia and Ukraine policy on the National Security Council testified for 10 hours. And like we told you all in our last episode, he had a lot to say. Most interesting, the transcript of the phone call between Trump and Ukraine's president isn't as complete as the White House has claimed. That track's given several places in the document where there are ellipses added, you know, the dot dot dot that usually means there's some missing words.

According to the New York Times and confirmed by Buzzfeed News, Vindman noticed that among the missing words was Burisma, the Ukrainian company where Joe Biden's son Hunter served on the board. When Vindman tried to add it and other bits back in, he told Congress, his suggestions were denied.

People have been going back and forth since the document was released in September about whether it was edited before the White House published it. We've known that it was not an original word-for-word transcript given the notation at the bottom of the memo's first page. But whether anything was actually cut remained a mystery until now.

And a brief mea culpa. Just yesterday on Twitter, I was being kind of snotty with people insisting it shouldn't count as a transcript. I mean transcript is just easier to say when talking quickly than reconstructed memo of a conversation. And several other people do insist that it is still a transcript. But before last night we didn't know for sure things had been removed, and well, my bad. We'll figure out a better still concise term on a later episode.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress were hesitant about following Fox News' lead in trashing Vindman. Trump didn't use Vindman's name when tweeting yesterday that quote "Never Trumper" talking to Congress couldn't have been listening to the right phone call if he thought it was bad. But we all knew who he meant. And as we mentioned on yesterday's episode, Fox News' Laura Ingram came out swinging against Vindman, suggesting that because he'd emigrated from Ukraine as a child, he was some kind of double agent.

Former George W. Bush administration lawyer, John Yoo, replied that some people might consider that espionage. You walk back those comments, sort of, saying he meant Ukraine hitting up Vindman for advice on dealing with Rudy Giuliani could have been espionage. But on the Hill even that was too far. Representative Liz Cheney held a press conference where she called the attacks on Vindman shameful. And the usually pugnacious representative Mark Meadows, one of Trump's biggest allies in the House, said he didn't want to question the loyalty of a guy who'd earned a Purple Heart.

Okay. That was the news. This is just a fun bonus. Turns out not only does Vindman have a twin. They were both in a Ken Burns documentary about the Statue of Liberty and immigrants coming to America. Here's the audio that the Washington Post dug out of the vault featuring the then 10-year-old Vindman boys.

You guys, this is by far the weirdest timeline. And now if you're a numbers person, just want to know where today ranked, we have today's reading from our Nixometer, patent still pending.

On our scale a zero is a normal day in a normal White House and 10 is President Richard M. Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at a solid six and a half. That's a smidge down from yesterday's reading, mostly because the holy shit factor of Vindman's testimony has sunk in some. That said, things are still wild and will likely only continue to hold at this feeling of being camped out at the base of a mountain's peak as the week continues.

After the break, we talk to congressional correspondent, Addy Baird, about that which shall not be named a transcript. (silence)

Okay, we've got something a little different for you this episode. Welcome to the first installment of Impeachment Today Theater where we make like Colonial Williamsburg and bring history to life for you. Today it's the infamous transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. Rather than just telling you about it, I'm joined by Buzzfeed News' congressional reporter, Addy Baird. Hello Addy.

Addy Baird

Hi Hayes.

Hayes Brown

Trump has tweeted many times since the White House first released this document last month that if you read it, it shows the call was totally legit and above board. So Addy and I will read out the highlights. I'll give some context in between those. Then we'll discuss why Democrats call this a smoking gun.

Okay, so before this call, Zelensky has been trying to get a meeting with Trump, but has been stonewalled by folks running what Democrats have called a "shadow foreign policy" in Ukraine. At the top of the call, Trump congratulates Zelensky for his party winning Ukraine's parliamentary elections. But Zelensky immediately uses it as a chance to get on Trump's good side with a string of compliments and praise. Now, Addy will be playing Zelensky while I'll be Trump.

Zelensky:

I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and we're able to use it as an example for our elections, and yes, it is true that these were unique elections. We were in a unique situation that we were able to achieve a unique success. I'm able to tell you the following. The first time you called me to congratulate me when I won my presidential election and the second time you are calling me now when my party won the parliamentary election. I think I should run more often so that you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.

Trump:

That's a very good idea. I think your country is very happy about that.

Zelensky:

Well, yes. To tell you the truth, we are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country. We brought in many, many new people, not the old politicians, not the typical politicians because we want to have a new format and a new type of government. You are a great teacher for us in that.

Hayes Brown:

Okay, so there is that. Trump then went into his complaints about how much the US does for Ukraine and that it isn't really reciprocal. So Zelensky thanks Trump for his help and then says this, which draws out the first big WTF moment from Trump.

Zelensky:

I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we are almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes.

Trump:

I would like you to do as 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. Dot, dot, dot. I guess you have one of your wealthy people. Dot, dot, dot. 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. 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. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible.

Hayes Brown:

That was the first of two favors Trump brought up in this call where he tries to get Zelensky's help with the US domestic politics. Now the thing he's asking about, the whole Crowdstrike thing, that's part of a wild conspiracy theory about the 2016 election that we'll dive into more on Friday. What matters right now is that he made the ask and he did so after hearing about the conspiracy theory from Rudy Giuliani.

Also note those dot dot dots. We mentioned them earlier in the show and there they are, just waiting to be filled in someday. Trump tells Zelensky to call both attorney general Bill Barr and Giuliani. He also dunks on a former US ambassador to Ukraine and mentions a Ukrainian prosecutor who he says was treated unfairly. We'll talk more about that guy tomorrow. And then we have this part where things really go off the rails.

The other thing, 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. Dot dot dot. It sounds horrible to me.

Zelensky:

I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I'm knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate who will be approved by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty. So we will take care of that and we will work on the investigation of the case.

Hayes Brown:

That ... how ... It's really impressive having read it out again. It's been a minute since I actually read through the thing. How wrong the White House is in insisting that this completely wipes clear the President of any alleged wrongdoing.

Addy Baird:

Yeah. It's been a minute since I read it too. And the moment when you read out loud, I want you to do us a favor though. I kind of gasped. Like I had kind of forgotten just how sudden it is and how obvious and how blatant it is. It's not a perfect call.

HB:

Right. So it is not at all a perfect call. So one of the things that the White House has also been arguing is that if you read through it, there is no quid pro quo ask. Yes, the President asks favors, but there's nothing on the other side that is said in the call. Given what we know now though, it's really hard to make that defense, especially considering what Congress has been hearing so far, right?

AB:

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of the testimony, I mean the quid pro quo like you mentioned is really at the heart of the entire inquiry. And from what we've been hearing from Democrats who are in these closed-door depositions, there have been a lot of details coming out, a lot of testimony coming out from Bill Taylor in particular who testified, I believe it was last week, about exactly how blatant the quid pro quo was. There were texts that House Democrats have released between some officials that literally outline, one of them Taylor says, "I think it's crazy to withhold this military assistance." And absolutely it is at the heart of it and it is becoming clearer and clearer that there was a quid pro quo here.

HB:

So given all of this Addy, you're on the Hill almost daily, you're on the Hill right now. How do you think that Democrats are going to proceed moving forward to really highlight some of the things that we talked about that are already out there? I mean if they're already out there like this and it's hard for them to gain traction as it is, how will Democrats make the case that impeachment is necessary?

AB:

Yeah. So like I mentioned and like you've talked about on the podcast, Democrats have been holding close-door depositions for several weeks and the next step is going to be public hearings. And those are coming soon. They can't give us an exact date but they are coming Democrats say. And I think that's going to be really central to making this case like you said. They want some people who've testified behind closed-doors to testify publicly, potentially other people, and the idea is really to kind of have them on cable news, have this be covered wall to wall and let people really see what they have seen.

HB:

All right Addy. Thank you so much for joining me for this first installment of Impeachment Today Theater. You were a perfect co-star for it. I really appreciate that.

AB:

Oh thank you. My high school drama teacher is going to be very proud.

HB:

Before you go though, we have a segment that is called The Kicker where we ask our guests to bring with them a quote, a tweet, or something that just really sums up where we are at this moment. So Addy, what do you have?

AB:

Okay. I have this really wild quote from CNN this morning. It's former Congressman Sean Duffy who's also a former Real World contestant.

Sean Duffy:

It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know that he's concerned about American policy, but his main mission was to make sure that the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand that we all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from. Like me, I'm sure that Vindman has the same affinity.

AB:

So this quote I think is just really capturing the feeling of this day to me. He is attacking a veteran who has a Purple Heart. It is making Republicans very uncomfortable. Liz Cheney came out and said that they didn't want to do this. Republicans I've talked to and Republican aides this morning were saying they need to be really cautious about how they talk about him. But you know, you can never quite get these people all on message these days.

HB:

All right. We'll Addy, thank you so much for bringing that to us and thank you for taking the time today. I'm going to let you go back to bugging people for quotes on the Hill.

AB:

Absolutely. Thank you Hayes.

HB:

All right. It is time for Testify, where we talk about who's testifying next at the congressional inquiry and what the hell we can expect. Okay, so upfront, this is the news. So things change. That means yesterday's segment out of date. There are actually two people testifying when you're listening to this on Wednesday. Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson are both foreign service officers who focus on Ukraine policy. And both of them at one point served as deputies for Kurt Volker, the former US Special Representative on Ukraine. Volker has already testified and handed over some pretty incriminating text messages. So what his deputies have to say will be fascinating.

All right. So coming up on Thursday, we have another White House official on deck. Timothy Morrison is on the National Security Council as Senior Director for Europe and Russia. He replaced Fiona Hill, who already gave some pretty damning testimony to Congress two weeks ago. Bill Taylor, the acting head of the US embassy in Ukraine testified last week that Morrison heard another official directly link the release of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine to Trump's demands for political investigations. After Colonel Vindman's explosive testimony on Tuesday, will Morrison keep that same energy he had when allegedly talking to Taylor while he's facing down questioning, or will the White House actually manage to keep this one from talking? We will soon see.

Okay. That's it for today. We are coming at you with a spooky Halloween episode tomorrow featuring the Ukrainian ghosts haunting Donald Trump. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. And if you can spare a minute, leave a rating and a review and tell your friends to give us a listen as we figure this out together.

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