/‘I Would Like You to Do Us a Favor’
‘I Would Like You to Do Us a Favor’

‘I Would Like You to Do Us a Favor’

The Daily|‘I Would Like You to Do Us a Favor’

transcript

transcript

‘I Would Like You to Do Us a Favor’

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Rachel Quester and Alexandra Leigh Young, and edited by Paige Cowett

According to a White House record of the phone call, those were President Trump’s words to Ukraine’s leader. But what do they mean for the impeachment inquiry?

michael barbaro
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Today: The White House releases a reconstruction of President Trump’s phone call to the leader of Ukraine. In it, Trump says, quote, “I would like you to do us a favor.” It’s Thursday, September 26. Mike Schmidt, tell us about this document that was released on Wednesday morning.
michael schmidt
So since this story began, we’ve all been trying to get a transcript of a July call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, who had just come into office.
michael barbaro
Right.
michael schmidt
And today, we got the closest thing to that, but not exactly that. It’s actually not a transcript. It’s based on notes and voice recognition software that was apparently listening in. And it does sort of read like a transcript, but, the White House says, cannot be treated as such.
michael barbaro
O.K., so it’s transcript-like.
michael schmidt
Correct.
michael barbaro
I have this feeling that this document, this not quite a transcript, is going to be the subject of enormous debate and scrutiny in the coming weeks and months. So I think that you and I should just read some of it. Not all of it, but a lot of it. I’m going to start at the top, and ask that you read Trump and I will read Zelensky.
michael schmidt
Why do you get to choose?
michael barbaro
I’m the host. I’m going to give you a copy.
michael schmidt
O.K.
michael barbaro
So at the top of the document, it begins, “Unclassified.” And then struck out are the words, “Eyes only. Do not copy.” “Memorandum of telephone conversation. Subject: telephone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine. Date, time, July 25, 2019, 9: 03 to 9: 33 a.m. Eastern time.” And then the president begins. So go ahead, Mike.
michael schmidt
“Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States, and you did a terrific job. The way you came from behind, somebody who wasn’t given much of a chance, and you ended up winning easily, it’s a fantastic achievement. Congratulations.”
michael barbaro
“You are absolutely right, Mr. President. We did win big, and we worked hard for this. We worked a lot. But I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge, and were able to use it as an example for our elections. And yes, it is true that these were unique elections. We were in a unique situation that we were able to achieve a unique success. I’m able to tell you the following. The first time, you called me to congratulate me when I won my presidential election, and the second time, you are now calling me when my party won the parliamentary election. I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.”
michael schmidt
The president laughs. “That’s a very good idea. I think your country is very happy about that.”
michael barbaro
O.K., Mike, this is all very complimentary between the two leaders, but especially Zelensky.
michael schmidt
Zelensky is basically speaking Trump’s language. He goes on to say that he’s going to drain the swamp in Ukraine.
michael barbaro
He’s basically saying, I’m modeling myself after you.
michael schmidt
Correct — I’m a mini-Trump.
michael barbaro
O.K., so where should we go next?
michael schmidt
Well, basically at the top, Trump lays out how good he and the United States have been to Ukraine.
michael barbaro
O.K., let’s read that section.
michael schmidt
So Trump says, “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time, much more than the European countries are doing. And they should be helping you more than they are. 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 the European countries are the same way, so I think it’s something you want to look at. 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.”
michael barbaro
“Yes, you are absolutely right. Not only 100 percent, but actually 1000 percent.” And then Zelensky says, “I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we are almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes.” O.K., Mike, so what’s happening here?
michael schmidt
So off the bat, Trump makes a strong argument for how good he and the United States have been to Ukraine. He lays out how that help is far better than anything they’ve gotten from the European countries. And it looks, on one hand, like he’s building an argument towards potentially asking for something. But at the same time, it’s a common refrain from Trump that we’ve heard from before he ran for president, that the United States pays too much to other countries, and major world powers, like countries in Europe, don’t pay their fair share.
michael barbaro
And what is Trump referring to when he says that the U.S. has been so good to Ukraine, so helpful?
michael schmidt
That the United States has given hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to help Ukraine protect themselves. They have Russia to the east of them. They’re very afraid of being overrun by them. And this money has helped them build up their military in self-defense.
michael barbaro
And what’s significant about the fact that the president is bringing this up right away?
michael schmidt
So Congress had just approved $400 million in aid to go to Ukraine, but Trump had ordered his aides to put a halt on it.
michael barbaro
Hmm. Money that Ukraine, from everything you just said, would probably very much want.
michael schmidt
That they say they need to protect themselves.
michael barbaro
And is President Zelensky aware of that fact when he’s on the call?
michael schmidt
We don’t know. But whether he knew it or not, if you’re the leader of a country like that and relying on hundreds of millions of dollars from someone else, it’s probably on your mind.
michael barbaro
And what do we know about why the president is trying to withhold this U.S. aid?
michael schmidt
We have learned a lot about this story in the past week, but one of the huge unanswered questions is why is it that Trump was holding up the money? Was it simply that he thought we were giving too much money away, and he thought the Europeans should be contributing more? Or it’s what he brings up next on the call.
michael barbaro
Which is what?
michael schmidt
What he says is that he would like for Zelensky to do him a favor. But it’s actually two favors. The first relates to the 2016 election. Let me read it to you.
michael barbaro
O.K.
michael schmidt
“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 with Ukraine.”
michael barbaro
Hmm.
michael schmidt
And then the president says, “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, the 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.”
michael barbaro
Mike, how do you interpret that?
michael schmidt
Trump has long believed that the real collusion was between Ukrainians and Democrats, who fed bad information to the F.B.I. to get the investigation going that ultimately becomes the Mueller investigation.
michael barbaro
Is there any evidence of that?
michael schmidt
No. It’s an elaborate theory that involves allegations about a company called CrowdStrike and how the D.N.C. was hacked and whether fake documents were created to undermine the legitimacy of Paul Manafort, the president’s campaign chairman. It’s a very elaborate plot. But if Trump were ever able to prove it, he would be able to show that the Russia investigation and the allegations about ties between his campaign and Russia were built on false information.
michael barbaro
So the first favor here is Trump asking Zelensky for evidence that might confirm this theory he has about the origins of the Russia investigation.
michael schmidt
He’s trying to show that the entire thing was built on false information drummed up by the Democrats. And Zelensky responds that he’s all about it. He says, we are open to a new page of cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine.
michael barbaro
In other words, I will help you.
michael schmidt
Correct. And then he goes on to say that one of his assistants has been in touch with the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who’s been leading the effort to prove these allegations true. He says he very much looks forward to having his folks meet with Giuliani, who’s going to come over and look into these things.
michael barbaro
Hmm.
michael schmidt
Then Trump asks a second favor. Trump asks Zelensky to investigate allegations about Joe Biden’s son.
michael barbaro
Let’s read that section.
michael schmidt
The president says, “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.”
michael barbaro
Mike, what’s happening here?
michael schmidt
This is a longstanding theory Trump has had that Joe Biden had a prosecutor fired in Ukraine to stop him from looking into allegations about a company his son worked for. And he says, I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I’m also going to have Attorney General Bill Barr give you a call.
michael barbaro
To talk about these Biden allegations.
michael schmidt
Yeah. Trump says, “So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”
michael barbaro
So the president is drawing his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the attorney general for the United States, Bill Barr, into this attempt to have Ukraine investigate Joe Biden, his political rival.
michael schmidt
Correct. And hopefully, the fruits of that investigation will be passed back to the Justice Department.
michael barbaro
For what purpose?
michael schmidt
Well, there’s really only one thing the Justice Department does in this area. And that would be a criminal prosecution.
michael barbaro
So in addition to asking a foreign government to get involved in the election, it seems, he’s implying, he’s asking his Justice Department to do the same.
michael schmidt
Yeah. How can this foreign country help my own Justice Department go after the candidate who may run against him in a year for president?
michael barbaro
Mike, is it important that there’s no explicit offer of something for something else, no explicit quid pro quo for these favors that the president is asking for? He didn’t say, for example, if you don’t do these favors, I won’t give you aid, or he didn’t say, by the way, I’m not sure if you know this, but I have withheld some aid, and you’re only going to get it if you do these favors.
michael schmidt
Sure. But in any type of scheme, it’s not like someone sits down and writes in a document, here’s how we’re breaking the law, or here’s how I’m setting up the quid pro quo. But moments earlier in the call, he had brought up the aid the United States was providing to Ukraine. So you could see where one reading of this document would be that the president had built the leverage at the top of the call and then moved in later on to ask for the favor.
michael barbaro
So the other side of the favor is just in the air, because the president is talking about just how supportive the U.S. is of Ukraine.
michael schmidt
It was one of the major topics they were discussing literally minutes earlier.
michael barbaro
What’s the other reading of this?
michael schmidt
That the discussions about aid to Ukraine and the favors are unrelated.
michael barbaro
They just happened to be in the same call.
michael schmidt
Correct. Donald Trump is talking about a lot of different things, bringing up a lot of different topics.
michael barbaro
So let’s talk about how this call ends.
michael schmidt
It sort of ends as it began, with flattery.
michael barbaro
Right. Zelensky says, “It might be a very good idea for you to travel to Ukraine. We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine, or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.”
michael schmidt
Trump says, “O.K., we can work that out. I look forward to seeing you in Washington, and maybe in Poland, because I think we are going to be there at that time.”
michael barbaro
“Thank you very much, Mr. President.”
michael schmidt
“Congratulations on a fantastic job you’ve done. The whole world was watching. I’m not sure it was so much of an upset, but congratulations.”
michael barbaro
“Thank you, Mr. President. Bye-bye.”
[music]
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back. O.K., so what comes of this call? Trump tells Zelensky that Attorney General Barr will call him. Zelensky says he will be all over this investigation and do as much as he can for President Trump. Does any of that stuff actually come to fruition?
michael schmidt
So as the readout of the call was released, Barr puts out a statement saying that he knows nothing of this and that he’s had no discussions with the Ukrainians on this subject.
michael barbaro
What about Zelensky and what he did?
michael schmidt
We have no evidence that these investigations have actually been conducted.
michael barbaro
So it’s possible that what was discussed in this call kind of just fizzled out.
michael schmidt
Maybe, but I think that there’s still a lot here that we don’t know.
michael barbaro
Mm-hmm. O.K. So Mike, we’re learning about the contents of this call the day after the Democrats announced that they would open an impeachment inquiry. What does this do to that process?
michael schmidt
Well, I certainly think it strengthens it. It’s a fresh stream of evidence that shows the president trying to get a foreign country to meddle in our election and to help our Justice Department go after his rivals. And it’s pretty clear. It’s this self-contained document, and it’s sort of simple and easy to understand. It’s a back-and-forth between two leaders. You can see what Trump wants and how he’s trying to use his influence on the other side. Remember, Trump has been accused of so many different things, many of them incredibly complicated, involving ideas like collusion or obstruction of justice or Russian names that we’ve never heard of. And in this case, it’s a simple call. And I think that that’s what makes it so powerful.
michael barbaro
Hmm. It feels like, a week ago, there was a whistle-blower complaint, and then, suddenly, reporting on the existence of a phone call. And I know that there’s a lot about the whistle-blower complaint that we don’t know, but if you’re the whistle-blower, it feels like a fair bit has been accomplished by filing that complaint at this point.
michael schmidt
And he still hasn’t spoken to Congress. He still hasn’t testified or laid it out for the entire country to see. So it’s been pretty powerful in this short period of time.
michael barbaro
I wonder if the reason why this feels so powerful and compelling to so many of these Democrats in a way that the Russia investigation did not is because it’s the president’s own words. We never had testimony from the president in the Mueller investigation. He always declined to do that. And when it came to conversations that were claimed to have been had by James Comey, for example, the president just said, there were two of us in a room. I dispute it.
michael schmidt
It was always secondhand. It was someone like Comey testifying, or we were reading his memos. In this case, you see the president behind closed doors, in his own words.
michael barbaro
And the documents are being released by his White House.
michael schmidt
Correct. And you can see exactly how he tries to use his office when he’s quietly on the phone with a foreign leader.
[music]
michael barbaro
Mike, thank you very much.
michael schmidt
Thanks for having me.
michael barbaro
On Wednesday night, the White House sent a copy of the whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress. The Times reports that the intelligence officer who filed the complaint raised alarms not just about the content of the call between Trump and Zelensky, but also about how the White House handled records of the conversation. In the House, support for an impeachment inquiry reached a major milestone, with 218 members supporting the move, a majority of those in the chamber. Of those, 217 are Democrats, one is independent, and zero are Republican. In the Senate, where any impeachment would eventually arrive, Republicans appeared deeply divided over the contents of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president.
archived recording (mitt romney)
I did read the transcript. It remains troubling in the extreme.
michael barbaro
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah expressed disapproval, while Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote on Twitter, quote, “Wow. Impeachment over this?” During a news conference, President Trump denied that he had offered anything to Ukraine’s president in return for his request to investigate Biden and his son.
archived recording (donald trump)
If you take a look at that call, it was perfect. I didn’t do it. There was no quid pro quo.
michael barbaro
But in a statement, the heads of the House Democratic committees investigating the president rejected Trump’s claim that a quid pro quo was essential to their inquiries. “Let’s be clear,” the statement read, “no quid pro quo is required to betray our country. Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in our elections — that is betrayal enough.” We’ll be right back. Here’s what else you need to know today.
archived recording (reuven rivlin)
[SPEAKING HEBREW]
michael barbaro
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been chosen to try to form a new government, despite a close election that seemed to represent a defeat for him. Israel’s president chose Netanyahu, a right-wing leader, over his chief opponent, Benny Gantz, a more moderate figure, after concluding that Netanyahu stood a better chance of creating a majority coalition. But Netanyahu failed to do just that five months ago, after the last election, and he remains, for now, many seats short of a majority. That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

According to a White House record of the phone call, those were President Trump’s words to Ukraine’s leader. But what do they mean for the impeachment inquiry?

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Rachel Quester and Alexandra Leigh Young, and edited by Paige Cowett

transcript

transcript

‘I Would Like You to Do Us a Favor’

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Rachel Quester and Alexandra Leigh Young, and edited by Paige Cowett

According to a White House record of the phone call, those were President Trump’s words to Ukraine’s leader. But what do they mean for the impeachment inquiry?

michael barbaro
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Today: The White House releases a reconstruction of President Trump’s phone call to the leader of Ukraine. In it, Trump says, quote, “I would like you to do us a favor.” It’s Thursday, September 26. Mike Schmidt, tell us about this document that was released on Wednesday morning.
michael schmidt
So since this story began, we’ve all been trying to get a transcript of a July call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, who had just come into office.
michael barbaro
Right.
michael schmidt
And today, we got the closest thing to that, but not exactly that. It’s actually not a transcript. It’s based on notes and voice recognition software that was apparently listening in. And it does sort of read like a transcript, but, the White House says, cannot be treated as such.
michael barbaro
O.K., so it’s transcript-like.
michael schmidt
Correct.
michael barbaro
I have this feeling that this document, this not quite a transcript, is going to be the subject of enormous debate and scrutiny in the coming weeks and months. So I think that you and I should just read some of it. Not all of it, but a lot of it. I’m going to start at the top, and ask that you read Trump and I will read Zelensky.
michael schmidt
Why do you get to choose?
michael barbaro
I’m the host. I’m going to give you a copy.
michael schmidt
O.K.
michael barbaro
So at the top of the document, it begins, “Unclassified.” And then struck out are the words, “Eyes only. Do not copy.” “Memorandum of telephone conversation. Subject: telephone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine. Date, time, July 25, 2019, 9: 03 to 9: 33 a.m. Eastern time.” And then the president begins. So go ahead, Mike.
michael schmidt
“Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States, and you did a terrific job. The way you came from behind, somebody who wasn’t given much of a chance, and you ended up winning easily, it’s a fantastic achievement. Congratulations.”
michael barbaro
“You are absolutely right, Mr. President. We did win big, and we worked hard for this. We worked a lot. But I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge, and were able to use it as an example for our elections. And yes, it is true that these were unique elections. We were in a unique situation that we were able to achieve a unique success. I’m able to tell you the following. The first time, you called me to congratulate me when I won my presidential election, and the second time, you are now calling me when my party won the parliamentary election. I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.”
michael schmidt
The president laughs. “That’s a very good idea. I think your country is very happy about that.”
michael barbaro
O.K., Mike, this is all very complimentary between the two leaders, but especially Zelensky.
michael schmidt
Zelensky is basically speaking Trump’s language. He goes on to say that he’s going to drain the swamp in Ukraine.
michael barbaro
He’s basically saying, I’m modeling myself after you.
michael schmidt
Correct — I’m a mini-Trump.
michael barbaro
O.K., so where should we go next?
michael schmidt
Well, basically at the top, Trump lays out how good he and the United States have been to Ukraine.
michael barbaro
O.K., let’s read that section.
michael schmidt
So Trump says, “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time, much more than the European countries are doing. And they should be helping you more than they are. 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 the European countries are the same way, so I think it’s something you want to look at. 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.”
michael barbaro
“Yes, you are absolutely right. Not only 100 percent, but actually 1000 percent.” And then Zelensky says, “I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically, we are almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes.” O.K., Mike, so what’s happening here?
michael schmidt
So off the bat, Trump makes a strong argument for how good he and the United States have been to Ukraine. He lays out how that help is far better than anything they’ve gotten from the European countries. And it looks, on one hand, like he’s building an argument towards potentially asking for something. But at the same time, it’s a common refrain from Trump that we’ve heard from before he ran for president, that the United States pays too much to other countries, and major world powers, like countries in Europe, don’t pay their fair share.
michael barbaro
And what is Trump referring to when he says that the U.S. has been so good to Ukraine, so helpful?
michael schmidt
That the United States has given hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to help Ukraine protect themselves. They have Russia to the east of them. They’re very afraid of being overrun by them. And this money has helped them build up their military in self-defense.
michael barbaro
And what’s significant about the fact that the president is bringing this up right away?
michael schmidt
So Congress had just approved $400 million in aid to go to Ukraine, but Trump had ordered his aides to put a halt on it.
michael barbaro
Hmm. Money that Ukraine, from everything you just said, would probably very much want.
michael schmidt
That they say they need to protect themselves.
michael barbaro
And is President Zelensky aware of that fact when he’s on the call?
michael schmidt
We don’t know. But whether he knew it or not, if you’re the leader of a country like that and relying on hundreds of millions of dollars from someone else, it’s probably on your mind.
michael barbaro
And what do we know about why the president is trying to withhold this U.S. aid?
michael schmidt
We have learned a lot about this story in the past week, but one of the huge unanswered questions is why is it that Trump was holding up the money? Was it simply that he thought we were giving too much money away, and he thought the Europeans should be contributing more? Or it’s what he brings up next on the call.
michael barbaro
Which is what?
michael schmidt
What he says is that he would like for Zelensky to do him a favor. But it’s actually two favors. The first relates to the 2016 election. Let me read it to you.
michael barbaro
O.K.
michael schmidt
“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 with Ukraine.”
michael barbaro
Hmm.
michael schmidt
And then the president says, “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, the 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.”
michael barbaro
Mike, how do you interpret that?
michael schmidt
Trump has long believed that the real collusion was between Ukrainians and Democrats, who fed bad information to the F.B.I. to get the investigation going that ultimately becomes the Mueller investigation.
michael barbaro
Is there any evidence of that?
michael schmidt
No. It’s an elaborate theory that involves allegations about a company called CrowdStrike and how the D.N.C. was hacked and whether fake documents were created to undermine the legitimacy of Paul Manafort, the president’s campaign chairman. It’s a very elaborate plot. But if Trump were ever able to prove it, he would be able to show that the Russia investigation and the allegations about ties between his campaign and Russia were built on false information.
michael barbaro
So the first favor here is Trump asking Zelensky for evidence that might confirm this theory he has about the origins of the Russia investigation.
michael schmidt
He’s trying to show that the entire thing was built on false information drummed up by the Democrats. And Zelensky responds that he’s all about it. He says, we are open to a new page of cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine.
michael barbaro
In other words, I will help you.
michael schmidt
Correct. And then he goes on to say that one of his assistants has been in touch with the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who’s been leading the effort to prove these allegations true. He says he very much looks forward to having his folks meet with Giuliani, who’s going to come over and look into these things.
michael barbaro
Hmm.
michael schmidt
Then Trump asks a second favor. Trump asks Zelensky to investigate allegations about Joe Biden’s son.
michael barbaro
Let’s read that section.
michael schmidt
The president says, “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.”
michael barbaro
Mike, what’s happening here?
michael schmidt
This is a longstanding theory Trump has had that Joe Biden had a prosecutor fired in Ukraine to stop him from looking into allegations about a company his son worked for. And he says, I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I’m also going to have Attorney General Bill Barr give you a call.
michael barbaro
To talk about these Biden allegations.
michael schmidt
Yeah. Trump says, “So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”
michael barbaro
So the president is drawing his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the attorney general for the United States, Bill Barr, into this attempt to have Ukraine investigate Joe Biden, his political rival.
michael schmidt
Correct. And hopefully, the fruits of that investigation will be passed back to the Justice Department.
michael barbaro
For what purpose?
michael schmidt
Well, there’s really only one thing the Justice Department does in this area. And that would be a criminal prosecution.
michael barbaro
So in addition to asking a foreign government to get involved in the election, it seems, he’s implying, he’s asking his Justice Department to do the same.
michael schmidt
Yeah. How can this foreign country help my own Justice Department go after the candidate who may run against him in a year for president?
michael barbaro
Mike, is it important that there’s no explicit offer of something for something else, no explicit quid pro quo for these favors that the president is asking for? He didn’t say, for example, if you don’t do these favors, I won’t give you aid, or he didn’t say, by the way, I’m not sure if you know this, but I have withheld some aid, and you’re only going to get it if you do these favors.
michael schmidt
Sure. But in any type of scheme, it’s not like someone sits down and writes in a document, here’s how we’re breaking the law, or here’s how I’m setting up the quid pro quo. But moments earlier in the call, he had brought up the aid the United States was providing to Ukraine. So you could see where one reading of this document would be that the president had built the leverage at the top of the call and then moved in later on to ask for the favor.
michael barbaro
So the other side of the favor is just in the air, because the president is talking about just how supportive the U.S. is of Ukraine.
michael schmidt
It was one of the major topics they were discussing literally minutes earlier.
michael barbaro
What’s the other reading of this?
michael schmidt
That the discussions about aid to Ukraine and the favors are unrelated.
michael barbaro
They just happened to be in the same call.
michael schmidt
Correct. Donald Trump is talking about a lot of different things, bringing up a lot of different topics.
michael barbaro
So let’s talk about how this call ends.
michael schmidt
It sort of ends as it began, with flattery.
michael barbaro
Right. Zelensky says, “It might be a very good idea for you to travel to Ukraine. We can either take my plane and go to Ukraine, or we can take your plane, which is probably much better than mine.”
michael schmidt
Trump says, “O.K., we can work that out. I look forward to seeing you in Washington, and maybe in Poland, because I think we are going to be there at that time.”
michael barbaro
“Thank you very much, Mr. President.”
michael schmidt
“Congratulations on a fantastic job you’ve done. The whole world was watching. I’m not sure it was so much of an upset, but congratulations.”
michael barbaro
“Thank you, Mr. President. Bye-bye.”
[music]
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back. O.K., so what comes of this call? Trump tells Zelensky that Attorney General Barr will call him. Zelensky says he will be all over this investigation and do as much as he can for President Trump. Does any of that stuff actually come to fruition?
michael schmidt
So as the readout of the call was released, Barr puts out a statement saying that he knows nothing of this and that he’s had no discussions with the Ukrainians on this subject.
michael barbaro
What about Zelensky and what he did?
michael schmidt
We have no evidence that these investigations have actually been conducted.
michael barbaro
So it’s possible that what was discussed in this call kind of just fizzled out.
michael schmidt
Maybe, but I think that there’s still a lot here that we don’t know.
michael barbaro
Mm-hmm. O.K. So Mike, we’re learning about the contents of this call the day after the Democrats announced that they would open an impeachment inquiry. What does this do to that process?
michael schmidt
Well, I certainly think it strengthens it. It’s a fresh stream of evidence that shows the president trying to get a foreign country to meddle in our election and to help our Justice Department go after his rivals. And it’s pretty clear. It’s this self-contained document, and it’s sort of simple and easy to understand. It’s a back-and-forth between two leaders. You can see what Trump wants and how he’s trying to use his influence on the other side. Remember, Trump has been accused of so many different things, many of them incredibly complicated, involving ideas like collusion or obstruction of justice or Russian names that we’ve never heard of. And in this case, it’s a simple call. And I think that that’s what makes it so powerful.
michael barbaro
Hmm. It feels like, a week ago, there was a whistle-blower complaint, and then, suddenly, reporting on the existence of a phone call. And I know that there’s a lot about the whistle-blower complaint that we don’t know, but if you’re the whistle-blower, it feels like a fair bit has been accomplished by filing that complaint at this point.
michael schmidt
And he still hasn’t spoken to Congress. He still hasn’t testified or laid it out for the entire country to see. So it’s been pretty powerful in this short period of time.
michael barbaro
I wonder if the reason why this feels so powerful and compelling to so many of these Democrats in a way that the Russia investigation did not is because it’s the president’s own words. We never had testimony from the president in the Mueller investigation. He always declined to do that. And when it came to conversations that were claimed to have been had by James Comey, for example, the president just said, there were two of us in a room. I dispute it.
michael schmidt
It was always secondhand. It was someone like Comey testifying, or we were reading his memos. In this case, you see the president behind closed doors, in his own words.
michael barbaro
And the documents are being released by his White House.
michael schmidt
Correct. And you can see exactly how he tries to use his office when he’s quietly on the phone with a foreign leader.
[music]
michael barbaro
Mike, thank you very much.
michael schmidt
Thanks for having me.
michael barbaro
On Wednesday night, the White House sent a copy of the whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress. The Times reports that the intelligence officer who filed the complaint raised alarms not just about the content of the call between Trump and Zelensky, but also about how the White House handled records of the conversation. In the House, support for an impeachment inquiry reached a major milestone, with 218 members supporting the move, a majority of those in the chamber. Of those, 217 are Democrats, one is independent, and zero are Republican. In the Senate, where any impeachment would eventually arrive, Republicans appeared deeply divided over the contents of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president.
archived recording (mitt romney)
I did read the transcript. It remains troubling in the extreme.
michael barbaro
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah expressed disapproval, while Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote on Twitter, quote, “Wow. Impeachment over this?” During a news conference, President Trump denied that he had offered anything to Ukraine’s president in return for his request to investigate Biden and his son.
archived recording (donald trump)
If you take a look at that call, it was perfect. I didn’t do it. There was no quid pro quo.
michael barbaro
But in a statement, the heads of the House Democratic committees investigating the president rejected Trump’s claim that a quid pro quo was essential to their inquiries. “Let’s be clear,” the statement read, “no quid pro quo is required to betray our country. Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in our elections — that is betrayal enough.” We’ll be right back. Here’s what else you need to know today.
archived recording (reuven rivlin)
[SPEAKING HEBREW]
michael barbaro
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been chosen to try to form a new government, despite a close election that seemed to represent a defeat for him. Israel’s president chose Netanyahu, a right-wing leader, over his chief opponent, Benny Gantz, a more moderate figure, after concluding that Netanyahu stood a better chance of creating a majority coalition. But Netanyahu failed to do just that five months ago, after the last election, and he remains, for now, many seats short of a majority. That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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The White House released a reconstructed transcript of President Trump’s phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the leader of Ukraine. In it, Mr. Trump asks for an investigation into Joseph R. Biden Jr., a potential 2020 rival. We consider what that request means for the impeachment inquiry now underway.

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On today’s episode:

  • Michael S. Schmidt, who covers national security and federal investigations for The New York Times.

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President Donald Trump spoke to reporters a day after Democrats in Congress began an impeachment inquiry into his actions, denying that he did anything improper.CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.

“The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Alexandra Leigh Young, Jonathan Wolfe, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Adizah Eghan, Kelly Prime, Julia Longoria, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Jazmín Aguilera, M.J. Davis Lin, Dan Powell, Austin Mitchell and Sayre Quevedo. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Stella Tan and Julia Simon.

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