WASHINGTON — House Republicans brushed off the idea that a transcript that detailed the controversial conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and prompted Congress’s impeachment inquiry was incomplete, with many of them pivoting to the line they’ve been echoing for weeks: “There was no quid pro quo.”
On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council told House impeachment investigators that some of the document omitted important words, as first reported by the New York Times. The report also said that Vindman — who listened to the phone call firsthand — made some edits to the original record, debunking Trump’s claim that the unclassified document was an “exact” transcription of the June conversation. (The document itself made clear it was a non-verbatim transcript.) Other edits Vindman tried to make, he told Congress, were not accepted, according to the Times.
But Republicans don’t seem to mind.
“I’ve read the reports, and let me just tell you — it’s a nothingburger,” said Rep. Mark Meadows. He went on to say that the fact there were omissions in the transcript wasn’t relevant.
Other Republicans deferred to the “quid pro quo” argument — despite testimony that Trump asked for dirt on former vice president Joe Biden in exchange for US financial aid to Ukraine — casting aside the original question about the transcript of the call.
“The transcript dealt with 2016,” said Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee. “So I don’t see any problem with it. I just don’t see the quid pro quo at all. There was no quid pro quo. They received the funding, and he didn’t receive anything at all.”
Texas Rep. Mike Conaway said Vindman’s testimony that the transcript was altered comes at a “curious timing.”
“That transcript has been out for a long time and been available, and anybody who was on the phone call could have said something before now,” said Conaway, after calling the reports that the transcript was changed “unsubstantiated claims.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed reports about Vindman’s description of the transcript changes. “He also, if you go through — and I’ve only heard this reporting because I wasn’t in the room — said it didn’t change the content. So how does that matter?” McCarthy said.
When asked about Trump’s repeated declaration that the transcript of the call was “perfect,” McCarthy said he thought the president was referring to the phone call itself. Ultimately, he too brought up the quid pro quo argument.
“I think what the president was referring to was the conversation, the phone call, where, as Adam Schiff said before anybody knew what was in the call that there was quid pro quo — that all these names were brought up,” said McCarthy.
But the president had been clear that he meant the transcript. On Sept. 25, the White House released the non-verbatim transcript of the July call. On Oct. 2, Trump told reporters that the document was an “exact transcript.”
“They didn’t know I had a transcript, done by very, very talented people, word for word, comma for comma,” Trump told reporters during a press conference with the president of Finland.
“We had an exact transcript,” he added.
The changes do not alter the overall understanding of the president’s call, but Vindman said the transcript — which was created through voice recognition software — did not recognize key phrases, including a reference to Burisma Holdings, the company for which Biden’s son Hunter previously served on the board.
Some Republicans who are not on the committees running the investigation suggested to BuzzFeed News that they weren’t informed on the transcript news.
“I guess I better do some research to figure out what’s come out,” said Rep. John Shimkus. “You’re wasting your time with me. Get someone that knows what they’re talking about.”
When asked specifically about reports that Vindman’s testimony discredited the president’s “perfect transcript” theory, Shimkus responded:
“I don’t know. Who is he?”