'I would like you to do us a favor ...'
The official memo of a crucial phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reinforces reports that their discussion blended the issues of arms sales with targeting Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden for legal trouble.
The record, released Wednesday, is called a "rough" transcript culled from notes taken by officials who listened. And in it, Trump urges a fawning Zelensky to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — as well as with U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Newsday's Tom Brune explains what the full verbal exchange means in light of the impeachment movement in the House of Representatives.
"We are almost ready to buy more Javelins [anti-tank missiles] from the United States for defense purposes," Zelensky tells Trump early on, thanking him for past support.
"I would like you to do us a favor, though ..." Trump responds. He begins alluding to CrowdStrike, a private company that was called in to probe the Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton's emails, and suggests answers about it are to be found in Ukraine.
Trump adds: "[Joe] Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me.”
The claim remains unsupported. The Trump camp has been spreading a rumor, so far unfounded, that Biden as vice president shielded his son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company, from an investigation of the firm.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said the conversation sounds like a "classic Mafia-like shakedown" and proved "far more damning" than he had expected. For his part, Zelensky insisted alongside Trump at the UN: "Nobody pushed me ... in other words, no pressure" and “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved” in the U.S. election.
Justice Barred the door
The Justice Department and the FBI had heard from intelligence officials about Trump's call with Zelensky three times, prompting officials to mull an investigation of campaign finance violations if Trump got a political benefit from his Biden request.
Barr's Justice Department decided against it, though the intelligence community's inspector general and the acting director of national intelligence seem to have found a whistleblower's complaint credible enough to discuss legal action. Now the so-called whistleblower complaint has finally been reported to Congress.
Trump's latest blame spray
Alleged deep-state, left-wing, horrible, mean, Democratic, media-driven, hypocritical "witch-hunt" plots remained the sum and substance of Trump's offense-as-defense on Wednesday against the impeachment inquiry launched in the House. He also finessed straightforward challenges to defend the propriety of recruiting foreign officials for political skulduggery.
Predictably, he denied pressuring Zelensky. "The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell," Trump said. "It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, ‘I never knew you could be so nice.’ ”
“Impeachment for that? When you have a wonderful meeting, a wonderful phone conversation?” Trump said. The president also deployed the term "perfect" during his rambling presentation.
Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez captured the letter and spirit of the president's news conference. He offered to release other such memos.
"Wonderful" and "perfect" conversations, as he calls them, aren't listed in the Constitution as a legal basis for impeachment, of course. What are? Newsday's Emily Ngo gives us the essentials to understand the process as it now stands.
A punchy Rudy show
Even in the friendly climes of Laura Ingraham's Fox News show, Giuliani found himself getting hot under the collar in ways we haven't seen since he was snarling at reporters' City Hall questions and tongue-lashing critical callers on his "Ask the Mayor" program decades ago.
When Democratic operative Chris Hahn, a Long Islander, cited the ex-mayor's mingling of Trump political interests and State Department business, Giuliani blew a fuse.
“You actually usually say incredibly stupid things,” Giuliani told Hahn Tuesday night as they scrapped over the ex-mayor slandering Biden. Giuliani threatened Hahn with a lawsuit.
“You’re a public figure,” Hahn said.
“Yeah, by the way, do you have any idea the State Department ...” Giuliani said as Hahn spoke over him.
“Shut up, moron, shut up! Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know what you’re talking about, idiot,” Giuliani barked.
What else is happening:
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he won't try to rework the terms of the tattered 2015 nuclear pact if crippling U.S.-imposed economic sanctions remain in place, Newsday's Zachary R. Dowdy reports.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced more sanctions on some Chinese entities for knowingly transporting oil from Iran.
- Japan has reached a new narrow trade agreement with the U.S. dealing with farm goods and the digital industry.
- Pompeo's exact role in the Ukraine mess is coming in for some questions.
- Indicted Trump operative Roger Stone's defense team hints at a possible courtroom showdown on the witness stand with former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon, according to Politico.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has seasoning in intelligence matters after years on the relevant House committee, a possible factor as she heads an impeachment inquiry.
- Some Senate Republicans disliked what they read in the Zelensky "transcript."
- Former Rep. Liz Holtzman, who served on the Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation, says Trump "appears to have acted for his own personal political interests as opposed to a legitimate national interest."