But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t constitute partial grounds for impeachment, which doesn’t require criminality. And on that score, the new details of the call are very damning.
Crucially, the call details show Trump explicitly pressing Zelensky to talk to Giuliani and Barr about Trump’s desire to see Ukraine investigate Biden, his most likely general-election opponent.
“If you could speak to [Giuliani], that would be great,” Trump tells Zelensky, before saying that “a lot of people” want to find out about the situation involving Joe Biden and the Ukraine, and asking Zelensky to “look into it.”
That’s a reference to the convoluted fabrication that Trump, Giuliani and right-wing media have pushed involving Biden, his most likely general-election opponent, and his son. For the details, see Glenn Kessler’s latest look at this narrative, which shows that it has only further imploded over time.
Trump did not mention the military aid to Ukraine as part of this pressure, but keep in mind that Trump had suspended that aid at that point, and Ukraine was eager to get it.
Whether Zelensky drew a connection between those things, it is now confirmed that Trump directly pressed a foreign power to interfere in a U.S. election on his behalf. This means the extraordinarily serious misconduct that is being examined as part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has now been established.
Devastating new reporting on Giuliani
The fact that it’s now also confirmed that Trump directed Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine becomes even more important in light of an extraordinary Post report detailing Giuliani’s central role in manipulating relations with Ukraine.
The key revelations in the Post report are as follows: Giuliani was at the center of a months-long battle inside the administration between national security officials and Trump loyalists. Officials were alarmed at efforts by Giuliani — who is not a member of the administration — to undermine the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine with wild conspiracy theories.
Giuliani viewed Zelensky as a potential ally who could be enlisted, among other things, to provide dirt on Biden. That effort hit its climax when Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden, as the call details show.
But, importantly, The Post’s report details that national security officials didn’t want that call to happen, and worked to prevent it. Why? Because they feared that “Trump and those close to him” — i.e., Giuliani — appeared “prepared to use U.S. leverage with the new leader of Ukraine for Trump’s political gain.”
This is, of course, exactly what did happen. That now appears to be one of the subjects of the whistleblower complaint that top Trump officials are refusing to transmit to Congress, in apparent violation of the law.
Along those lines, this revelation in the Post report deserves special attention:
Though the whistleblower report focuses on the Trump-Zelensky call, officials familiar with its contents said that it includes references to other developments tied to the president, including efforts by Giuliani to insert himself into U.S.-Ukrainian relations.
If this is right, it means Giuliani’s efforts were among the things that alarmed the whistleblower enough to take the extraordinary step of trying to alert the congressional intelligence committees. And Giuliani’s efforts are likely among the things the intelligence community’s inspector general deemed an “urgent concern.”
And remember, the whistleblower complaint concerns other matters in addition to this call that we don’t know about yet.
Which brings us to another aspect of this tale that continues to go underappreciated: Giuliani has openly admitted he wouldn’t have done all this without consulting Trump. As Giuliani put it: “I don’t do anything that involves my client without speaking with my client.”
Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president confirms Trump’s role in directing Giuliani here.
On Tuesday night, Giuliani went on Fox News and responded to the latest revelations by, in effect, throwing the State Department under the bus. Watch both videos:
In doing this — in particular, claiming his cellphone contains evidence of the State Department telling him to do what he did — Giuliani may have just invited more scrutiny of himself as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Giuliani is asking for more scrutiny
Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University, told me that the House now has good cause to demand Giuliani’s testimony, and even those phone records he referenced.
“Giuliani has essentially invited Congress to subpoena his phone records,” Goodman said. “It’s highly likely that Giuliani personally will be subpoenaed.” This would likely be done by the Intelligence Committee, Goodman noted.
Keep in mind that we now know Giuliani was far more involved than we thought in trying to manipulate relations with Ukraine on behalf of Trump’s narrow interests, as opposed to the nation’s; that Giuliani’s activities feature in the whistleblower’s warning of an urgent concern; and that Trump directed Giuliani’s activities, as the details of Trump’s call confirm.
Put that together, and it means Giuliani might figure more heavily in the impeachment inquiry than expected.
“This points to a more likely impeachment scenario,” Goodman told me. “This is so completely unprecedented.”
Giuliani is the type of advocate Trump loves, because Giuliani shows “fight” — that is, Giuliani is willing to lie as shamelessly and uncontrollably on Trump’s behalf as Trump himself is. But as much as Trump and his supporters may thrill to Giuliani’s performances, he’s probably putting Trump in greater peril.