What to say about the transcript?
First, it’s not verbatim. I’m not suggesting that there is a Nixonian “missing tape” here, but let’s not forget how misleading the Barr memo was when compared to the Mueller report.
Second, we have yet to see the complete unredacted whistleblower complaint. What we do know about it is that the Inspector General of the intelligence community deemed it to be “urgent” and “serious.”
Third, the transcript covers one phone call. We do not know if there were other calls with Trump—or his associates. What we do know is that Trump suggests that President Volodymyr Zelensky should cooperate with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, and take a call from Attorney General Barr, when they reach out to him. In fact, this is a central theme of the transcript.
Did these calls take place? What was said on these calls?
Fourth, Trump does ask Zelensky to “look into” the controversy swirling about the son of Trump’s main domestic political rival, Joe Biden. “There is a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Trump said, according to the transcript.
Regarding Biden’s son, Trump continued, “whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”
Although Trump spends a lot of time talking about how good America has been to Ukraine, and although Trump then asks the Ukrainian president for a “favor,” there is no clear or explicit quid pro quo.
There doesn’t have to be. When the president of the United States of America calls you—and you are waiting for a $391 million aid package from him—the power dynamic suggests that you should do what you know he wants you to do.
But the truth is that nobody sane should have expected to find a clear quid pro quo here. That’s not how Trump works. As Michael Cohen said, Trump “doesn’t give orders. He speaks in code.”
The point is that the quid pro quo, such as it exists, was implicit. But even without that, asking a foreign power to help damage your domestic political rival would be impeachable, regardless of whether a quid pro quo exists at all.
If that’s the standard you set, though, this (not verbatim) transcript might be seen as anticlimactic. In a sense, though, it’s impossible to imagine the White House releasing a transcript that included a clear quid pro quo.
What this is, however, is damning enough to begin an impeachment inquiry to see whether enough evidence exists for the House to pass articles officially accusing the president of an impeachable offense, thus sending it to the Senate for conviction.
This transcript does not exist in a vacuum. Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani have already essentially conceded that they traded on the prestige of the White House (which Trump does not personally own) to coerce a foreign power into helping go after Trump’s chief domestic political rival.
If Barack Obama had done anything this egregious, Republicans would be echoing my sentiments.
At this point, any Republican defending Trump is probably beyond redemption.
Since asking Republicans to do the right thing based on principle or the rule of law has proven fruitless, I have resigned myself to try a new message: Help me make Mike Pence president!