“Read the transcript!” That’s the rallying cry of President Donald Trump and supporters who say he did nothing wrong in the Ukraine impeachment saga.
Democrats countered that the White House readout of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president offers strong evidence of his guilt.
The key line they point to is this: “I would like you to do us a favour,” Trump tells President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
With Trump set for trial starting on Tuesday in the Senate after his impeachment in the House, that 16-minute call is Exhibit A for both the president and his opponents.
Weeks of House testimony underscored that many of Trump’s aides and envoys were disturbed by the call and broader administration efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, including by withholding almost $400 million in assistance the ally desperately wanted to counter Russian aggression. Fiona Hill, the top National Security Council adviser on Russia at the time, said her boss, John Bolton, called the effort a “drug deal.”
But the House proceedings didn’t answer all the questions about what happened. And even though the president blocked key witnesses from testifying and defied a subpoena for Ukraine-related documents, new allegations and evidence keep emerging.
The impeachment debate ultimately revolves around whether the president’s request was an abuse of power — co-opting a foreign power for political purposes — or just an indelicate effort to get an ally to tackle corruption.
Just this week, a nonpartisan congressional oversight agency ruled the aid freeze was illegal, a finding the White House immediately rejected.
Despite testimony from 17 witnesses in both private and public hearings, there’s still no ironclad proof that Trump personally ordered the aid to Ukraine withheld — and an Oval Office meeting sought by Zelenkskiy unscheduled — until the Ukrainian leader committed to the Biden investigation.
Officials who could speak to that issue — acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Bolton — effectively refused to testify in the House impeachment hearings. Bolton now suggests he’d be open to testifying in the Senate, but Trump has said he’ll claim executive privilege if his former aide tries.
The accusation of a quid pro quo was bolstered by Mulvaney, who told reporters pressing him about the Ukraine allegations that, yes, the president was using foreign policy to pursue his domestic political needs.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “And I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
One of the most revelatory themes of the impeachment trial was how Giuliani, claiming he was acting with Trump’s authority, wrested US policy towards Ukraine away from the career diplomats and political appointees who were nominally in charge of it.