President Donald Trump declassified and released on Wednesday a reconstructed transcript of his 30-minute conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. The five-page document reveals the discussion between the two men that took place on July 25. A group of National Security Council officials referred to as "notetakers" transcribed the call from the White House Situation Room. Trump appears to have spoken to Zelenskiy from his residence.
There is a note of caution in the transcript: a footnote says it is not verbatim, and its text contains ellipses.
1. Trump asked for an investigation into the Bidens
Trump: "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 … It sounds horrible to me."
In this passage, Trump pushed the new Ukrainian president to get his country's prosecutor to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. In May, Ukraine's top prosecutor had said there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens to investigate.
When he was vice president, Biden had pushed the Ukrainian government in 2015 to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was widely seen as an obstacle to reform because he failed to bring corruption cases. At the time, Biden's son sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, that was the subject of an investigation that Shokin's office had long left dormant.
In 2018, Biden talked about his effort to get Shokin removed — carrying out the Obama administration's policy — at a Council on Foreign Relations event, and Trump's supporters have used a brief video clip from those remarks as part of their insinuations that the vice president was trying to protect Burisma Holdings from prosecution. Biden did not portray his effort to get Shokin out as stopping any prosecution of Burisma Holdings.
2. Trump alluded to US aid, while not explicitly linking his request to unfreezing it, the document shows
Trump: "I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time."
At the time of this call, Trump was holding back hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine that Congress had appropriated to help that country fend off Russian aggression. The two leaders did not directly refer to Trump's freezing of the aid or whether he would unfreeze it. However, Trump referred to large-scale US assistance to Ukraine in this passage, and several sentences later, Trump added:
Trump: … "but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine. I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal, necessarily, because things are happening that are not good. But the United States has been very very good to Ukraine."
At this point in the call, Trump brought up the idea of reciprocity, suggesting that the United States has been good to Ukraine even though something Ukraine has done is not good. The next thing Trump said — after Zelenskiy responded to this statement — was to ask for investigations.
3. Zelenskiy agreed to pursue an inquiry into the Bidens
Zelenskiy: "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 we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country."
In May, Ukraine's top prosecutor at the time had said there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens for him to investigate. In this passage, Zelenskiy promises to do what Trump is asking — launch an investigation into the Bidens — but also asks Trump if he can provide any information for Ukrainian investigators to look at.
4. Trump said Barr would call the Ukrainian president about another investigation
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. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation in 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. 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."
Trump appears to be referencing an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory pushed by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, that Ukraine had some involvement in the emails stolen from Democratic National Committee.
Giuliani said in a previously unpublished portion of an interview with The New York Times in April that he was in touch with people "who said that the Ukrainians were the ones who did the hacking," then participated in an effort to blame the Russian government and link it to the Trump campaign.
The special counsel's report, which Trump disparages here, made clear that Russian military officers hacked the DNC mail server. There is no evidence that the Ukrainians were involved. But in May, Attorney General William Barr launched his own investigation into the Russia investigation and its origins.
5. Trump cast aspersions on Western Europe and Germany as Ukrainian allies
Trump: "Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it's something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn't do anything. A lot of European countries are the same way so I think it's something you want to look at but the United States has been very good to Ukraine."
The geopolitical fate of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, has been up for grabs. Zelenskiy has expressed interest in having his country join NATO, and many in Ukraine want their future to be oriented toward Western Europe. But Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, has been trying to bring it back into Moscow's orbit.
In recent years, Russia has annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine's eastern territory, where many Ukrainian citizens are ethnically Russian and where pro-Russian separatists are strong. In this portion of the phone call, Trump suggests Ukraine cannot count on Europe and casts aspersions on German assistance.
6. Trump portrayed Giuliani, his personal lawyer, as an envoy
Trump: "Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news I just want to let you know that."
Here the president is pushing Zelenskiy to deal directly with Giuliani, his personal lawyer and close ally, while disparaging the United States' Senate-confirmed ambassador.
Giuliani has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories about the Bidens and encouraged the Ukrainian government to ramp up investigations into them. He told The New York Times in May that he was doing so "because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government."
At the time of this call, Giuliani had recently spoken on the phone with a top representative of the new Ukrainian president, and would soon meet him in person in Madrid. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own as a private citizen, but with the knowledge and assistance of the State Department.
Written by: Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Kenneth P. Vogel
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES