- A memorandum of a conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden.
- The phone call took place a week after Trump ordered a hold on aid to Ukraine. Trump does not mention this hold but does say that the United States is “very very good to Ukraine” in comparison to other countries and that he “wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal.”
- Some believe this could be interpreted as Trump using aid as leverage to receive a favor in a form of quid pro quo, but others argue that quid pro quo is not made explicit in the document.
- This memo has many Democrats more eager to impeach the president after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an inquiry Tuesday. Many Republicans, however, do not believe the conversation shows serious wrongdoing.
White House Released Memorandum
President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden during a phone call, a newly released memorandum shows.
The White House released the memorandum Wednesday of Trump’s July 25 conversation with the Ukrainian leader. The memorandum is essentially a rough transcript of their call, which according to the White House is “based on notes and recollections… by policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation.”
Trump promised to release transcripts of this talk after a whistleblower complaint alleged he encouraged Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Outrage over the phone call escalated Tuesday when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opened an impeachment inquiry into the matter.
“The other thing, 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, ” Trump said to Zelensky during their conversation. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump initially denied every saying anything “inappropriate” to a foreign leader, then eventually did admit to bringing Biden up during his talk with Zelensky. After doing so, he claimed he had a right to mention Biden.
Now that the impeachment inquiry is open, Democrats leading the charge were anxious to see what this memo would reveal. While it did confirm that Trump brought up probing a political opponent to a foreign leader, it did not explicitly confirm a quid pro quo, which is giving a favor with the expectation of getting something in return.
Just a week before their talk, Trump ordered a hold on almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. He did not bring this aid up during their conversation, however, he did insist that the United States was a strong ally to Zelensky’s country, though the favor may not be “reciprocal.”
“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,” Trump said.
“But the United States has been very very good to Ukraine,” he later added. “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.”
While a quid pro quo was not made explicit, many see this as Trump potentially holding assistance from the U.S. over Zelensky’s head.
Washington Post writer Aaron Blake explained its context with this metaphor:
“It’s difficult to see how Zelensky could interpret that set of circumstances as something other than a strong suggestion and even a veiled threat,” Blake wrote. “It’s equivalent to your boss repeatedly suggesting you do something — while noting what your compensation is — without explicitly making a demand. What are you going to do: believe it to just be a gentle suggestion? No, you’re going to think there could be some relation between your pocketbook/job status and your future actions.”
The fact that a quid pro quo is not directly in the memorandum does not foil the Democrat’s plan to impeach. The president still asked a foreign leader to look into Biden, a 2020 frontrunner. Democrats are also anticipating more information to come out in the whistleblower’s complaint, which was given to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on Wednesday afternoon.
Mention of Robert Mueller
Another passage that caught the public’s eye from the memorandum is one that referenced Robert Mueller. Zelesnky mentioned potentially buying Javelins from the U.S. Trump then asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” before mentioning Crowdstrike– the company that analyzed the DNC hack in 2016.
The context and details around what he says are very vague. He says he knows the Ukraine “knows a lot about it” before mentioning the company and then asks Zelensky to “get to the bottom of it.”
He then brings up Mueller’s testimony to Congress, which took place just one day before their phone call.
“As you saw yesterday, that 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,” Trump said.
While what Trump is specifically saying is unclear, reports indicate that this could be related to efforts to get to the root of the Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. Trump, his lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and other Republicans have a theory that Ukraine may have been connected to the DNC hack and its servers.
Zelensky seemed receptive to what Trump was saying.
“Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier,” Zelensky said.
Reactions to Memorandum
After the memorandum was released, Democrats who were already behind impeachment found a new fire ignited within them.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted about the news, claiming she was surprised the White House released the memo at all.
“The President sought to use the powers of the United States government to investigate a political opponent. We have no choice but to impeach,” she wrote.
Pelosi released a statement about the news.
“The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad,” she said. “I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the memo “reads like a classic mob shakedown.”
On the other side, however, Republicans thought the call did not show the president committing any serious wrongdoings.
“Wow. Impeachment over this?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote. “What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger.”
President Donald Trump has also defended himself. He retweeted Fox News Anchor Bret Baier pointing out the lack of direct quid pro quo.
He also spoke on Wednesday calling this “the single greatest witch hunt in American history.”
“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.’”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Fox News) (Wall Street Journal)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”