The Trump Transcript: Unpacking The Quid Pro Quo
This is the first in what will be a series of articles breaking down the transcript of the phone call released by Trump of his July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. This article rebuts Trump’s claim that transcript suggests no quid pro quo when he urged the Ukrainian President to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.
The release of the above linked transcript of Trump’s call with Zelenskyy is a bombshell, compelling evidence that Trump conspired with the leader of a foreign nation to meddle in our next election. Trump urged the Ukrainian President to investigate Trump’s most likely opponent in the 2020 Presidential race. Trump claims there was no quid pro quo for that, nothing he demanded in exchange.
To put this in context, suppose I approach you. I state that you are a good friend and I have done very very many things for you. I emphasize that I have done all these very very many good things for you without reciprocation from you. At which point you thank me, but you say there really is something else you need from me.
My very next words, in response to that, are “I would like you to do me a favor.” It turns out to be a series of favors. In that context, would that sound like I am asking a favor for a favor, which is the definition of quid pro quo? That’s exactly how it played out in the phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy.
After an exchange of pleasantries and mutual congratulations, Trump lays on the guilt trip. “We do a lot for Ukraine.” Trump argues that nobody does more than the United States for Ukraine, belittling the European Union’s contributions, and in particular Germany. In typical Trumpian self serving superlative language Trump declares, “The United States has been very very good to Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy thanks Trump, but says they need more help from the United States. In particular he said they need more Javelins (an American shoulder fired anti-tank missile).
Trump’s very next words after the Javelin request are . . . “I would like you to do us a favor.” Trump then goes on to ask for the CrowdStrike investigation favor that is the subject of a prior article from me.
In that context, it sure sounds like a favor for a favor, which is the definition of quid pro quo. But in full context, it’s actually worse than that. Here’s the statement from Trump more fully:
“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.”
Yes, he actually uses the cheesy “the United States has been very very good to Ukraine” line twice (right down to “very very” both times). But I view the important addition here the “I wouldn’t say it’s reciprocal” part. Trump is holding over Ukraine’s head that we have done a lot for them, and not got anything in return.
In that context, Zelenskyy asks for the Javelins and Trumps very next words are “I would like you to do us a favor.” Mutual reciprocation is the very essence of quid pro quo. “Quid pro quo” is essentially Latin for “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.”
In context, Trump twice says that we have been very very good to you, but you have not reciprocated, but “I would like you to do us a favor.” For the record (and for Trump’s benefit), for there to be a quid pro quo, the words “quid pro quo” do not have to actually be used.
So what happens next? Well, Zelenskyy makes clear that he wants to make Trump and America happy. After all, he is merely literally under the gun of a Russian invasion, and all that. He states he just recalled Ukraine’s Ambassador to America because Trump didn’t like her. He pledges to help with the investigation as asked. He’s probably befuddled as to what he can do. CrowdStrike American, not a Ukrainian company. Shouldn’t America and it’s FBI be investigating this, even in the implausible event it is true? [Hint: the answer is “yes”]
It’s then that Trump drops the other shoe, urging an investigation of Biden and his son:
“Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you . . . 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.”
I’ll have another article on the whole Giuliani thing. As some basic fact checking, Biden never bragged “he stopped the prosecution.” Biden did brag he got the prosecutor, who had long before dropped the investigation of Hunter Biden’s company, fired. The prosecutor in question was not regarded as “very good.” He was regarded as someone who refused to investigate corruption, virtually every American ally had called for his ouster, as had the IMF, as had numerous Republicans in Congress. Biden’s demand was on behalf of a world community, not his son.
At this point it becomes clear from the transcript that Zelenskyy is uncomfortable and he tries to shift the discussion away from Trump’s demands. Zelenskyy makes a general and vague statement that the next prosecutor will be good, one who will “restore honesty.” He tries to shift the topic back to his recalling the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States that Trump didn’t like.
Trump pushes the conversation back to his preferred point, saying he will have Giuliani and Barr call Zelenskyy, again complaining that the prior prosecutor was treated very badly.
Zelenskyy tries to get back to vague diplomatic pleasantries, discussing his prior trip to the United States and his hope to return.
Trump again pushes back to what he wants to talk about stating, “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
It’s clear the primary purpose of this call, from Trump’s perspective, was to enlist the aid of a foreign country to investigate a political rival (Biden was then and remains the leader in the polls to be the Democratic nominee).
Trump got that out quick, and in the context of, “I’ve done a lot for you, you haven’t done anything for me, now you are asking for more, so I need a favor from you.” When the Ukrainian President made vague assurances, and tried to move the topic away from that, Trump kept coming back to it.
You might wonder how this breaks the law. Let’s go back to that Mueller Report. In it Mueller was clear that if Trump had conspired with the Russians to meddle in the election that this would have violated the law. But Mueller found that while the Russians wanted Trump to win, and Trump was happy to accept their help, that they did not perform the necessary “coordination” with each other to complete a criminal conspiracy.
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” — Mueller Report, p. 1.
The transcript of this phone call with the President of the Ukraine establishes that coordination to receive foreign benefit in an election, the one element missing from Mueller’s investigation of possible Trump Campaign collusion with Russia, is present in this case. Trump even set the table for future coordination . . . with his personal attorney. More on that later.
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