That argument suffered a double blow on Friday — including thanks to Trump himself.
The White House on Friday morning released a rough transcript of his April call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It did so even though nobody really suggested there was anything improper about it. The idea seemed to be “We have nothing to hide; read the transcripts."
Instead, though, the call undermined one of Trump’s chief defenses. It was quickly noted that the transcript didn’t match a public readout of the call provided by the White House, which said Trump told Zelensky that he was committed to working together to “strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.” There is no mention of any of that on the call.
As The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig reports, it turns out the readout was actually drafted before the call took place and never updated. But importantly, the readout did reflect the talking points Trump was given ahead of the call. In other words, Trump was told he should talk to Zelensky about corruption … and he didn’t.
The second piece of evidence Friday that undermined the picture of Trump as a corruption-consumed steward of American tax dollars is David Holmes’s testimony. The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., testified Wednesday that Holmes told him he heard Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, remarking that Trump, in Taylor’s retelling, “cares more about the investigations of [Joe] Biden” than about Ukraine.
Holmes’s opening statement Friday shed even more light. He says:
I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President’s views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not “give a s — t about Ukraine.” Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not “give a s — t about Ukraine.” I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about “big stuff.” I noted that there was “big stuff” going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant “big stuff” that benefits the President, like the “Biden investigation” that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved on to other topics.
It’s possible Sondland was partially blowing off steam. He had just spoken with Trump and remarked to Holmes that Trump had been in a “bad mood,” as he often was in the mornings.
But Sondland is Trump’s point-person on the Ukraine effort — someone Trump was speaking with about progress on the investigations the day after his July 25 call with Zelensky. He would be well familiar with exactly what Trump cared about in Ukraine, and according to Holmes’s testimony about what Sondland told him, Trump cares chiefly about Trump.
Republicans spent much of the week complaining about how the people testifying in the impeachment hearings weren’t firsthand witnesses. Well, here was have an actual transcript furnished by the White House and a firsthand witness to what Sondland was saying about Trump’s interest in Ukraine. Both suggest Trump wasn’t all that keen on Ukrainian good governance.
And in fact, we now have two transcripts of Trump calls with Zelensky in which Trump doesn’t mention the word “corruption” — even as, in the first one, he takes time to praise Zelensky for the quality of Ukraine’s contestants in the Miss Universe pageant.