The July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky is the central piece of evidence in the Democratic drive to remove the president from office. 

“That call was a smoking gun,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after House Democrats voted to formalize their impeachment inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly said the call was “perfect,” or, as he described it recently, “perfecto.” His defenders, or most of them, have declined to adopt that characterization. 

But importantly, the president, and others as well, have also pointed to the circumstances of the Trump-Zelensky conversation as evidence that Trump had no intent to commit any sort of offense, and certainly not one that the House would later deem impeachable.

“It’s common sense,” the president said recently in an expansive Oval Office conversation after the House vote. “I’ve got 20 to 25 people on the phone call. I’ve got stenographers and all of these people on the telephone. Am I going to make a statement that’s illegal or bad? I’m an intelligent person. Who would do a thing like that?”

To that end, Trump has urged everyone to “read the transcript” of the call. That is a reference to the memorandum, which reads like a rough transcript, prepared by the National Security Council. On the morning of the House vote, Trump tweeted, simply, “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” In his Oval Office conversation, he said his campaign has had T-shirts made with the same message.

Then, Trump said: “At some point, I’m going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it. When you read it, it’s a straight call.”

And, of course, the only reason everyone knows what is in the rough transcript is that, once it became the center of controversy, Trump released it to the public. He did so over the objections of some officials who argued disclosure would be an unprecedented breach of the confidentiality of the president’s communications with other heads of state.

In short, Trump appears to be making no effort to conceal what he said to Zelensky, be it about his belief that other countries should bear more of the burden of foreign aid or what he wanted Ukraine to investigate about the 2016 election and about former Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden. 

So what to make of a situation in which one side says the call is a smoking gun, while the other screams, “READ THE TRANSCRIPT”?

“Look at the circumstantial evidence surrounding this,” former independent counsel Kenneth Starr said in a recent interview. “[Did Trump say] ‘Bring him in, bring him in here, and I want to talk to him privately’?”

No. Instead, Starr explained, Trump chose a phone call, rather than a one-on-one meeting, to make his points with Zelensky. Remember when the president was accused of being secretive in a one-on-one conversation with Vladimir Putin with no one other than translators within earshot? This wasn’t that.

“There were 17 people on the phone, including the secretary of State,” Starr continued. “The president was so, shall I say, open and transparent about it that that goes to his intent. There’s no corrupt bargain, or an attempt to achieve a corrupt bargain, as I see it.”

No, no, no, say Democrats. Trump’s behavior, according to presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, showed “clear evidence of consciousness of guilt.” The call is not a “straight call,” as the president said. It’s a confession of a crime.

Part of the problem with that position is that Democrats have had a difficult time coming up with a law that Trump violated in the Zelensky call. Some have said it was extortion. Some have said it was a campaign finance violation. Some recent speculation has focused on an obscure statute called the Hobbs Act. But nobody has made a slam-dunk case that Trump broke the law.

Still, Democrats say, the White House move to restrict access to the rough transcript shows an awareness that something was amiss. 

“People involved in the preparation of this transcript had, in effect, a consciousness of guilt,” CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin said recently. The problem with that argument, in the context of impeachment, is that it refers to White House staff, not to the president himself.

Some of Trump’s most determined adversaries say his “read the transcript” mantra is the work of a sociopath, of someone who is incapable of knowing right from wrong, or perhaps it is an in-your-face defense strategy that comes naturally to a man who almost never admits a mistake.

But the simplest explanation is that Trump really doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.

“Everybody knows I did absolutely nothing wrong,” the president said in the Oval Office before ticking down impeachments past. “Bill Clinton did things wrong. Richard Nixon did things wrong ... I did nothing wrong, and for [Democrats] to do this is a disgrace.”

In recent days, both sides in the impeachment debate appear to be hardening their positions. House Democrats are dead-set on impeaching Trump, and Republicans seem more and more determined to resist. In the Senate, Republicans appear to be moving toward arguing not that the Trump-Zelensky call was “perfecto,” but that it was inappropriate and yet still does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

The president has a counter to that argument, too, which he put in a recent tweet. His advice: Read the transcript.

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(1) comment

Quincy Adams

Well since this seems to be a make up your own humorous narrative of the perfect phone call, here is another take..

A preview of next week’s public hearings into the Criminal-In-Chief Dotard Trump.

Lawyer: Mr Dotard..errr Trump, did you withhold military aid to our Ukraine allies?

Dotard: It was only because they needed to clean up their internal corruption and I am a man of great integrity and principles. I’m probably the most principled person that has ever lived. I hear it all the time how principled I am. People walk up to me on the streets all the time to tell me they have never seen anyone as principled as I am.

Lawyer: Right. That is what Mr. Zelensky ran on; corruption. The Ukraine people were fed up with the previous president Poroshenko because he was a corrupted Ukraine oligarch. So what did you ask Mr Zelensky to do to clean up their internal corruption?

Trump: In my great and unmatched wisdom, I asked him to dig up some political dirt on my main rival Mr Biden for our 2020 elections. I told him that he better do more than the Ruskies did in 2016. And to investigate the thoroughly debunked Cloud strike DNC server. As you know, our Deep State CIA and FBI is corrupted and didn’t give me the answers I wanted to hear. I’m a stable genius and in my great and unmatched wisdom I told Zelensky he needs to find some dirt and then go on TV and publicly announce to the world he has the dirt on Biden. It was the perfect phone call.

Lawyer: What about your concern about cleaning up the corruption in the Ukraine. Like the self-dealing previous presidents that your buddy Manafort helped get elected and helped you get elected as well? You know, the guy scratching marks on the wall in prison right now? Or the former Ukraine prosecutor Biden got rid of who was enriching himself and that gnarly nest of Russian/Ukraine oligarchs?

Dotard: Are you kidding? I don’t care about that sh*t_hole country. Hell, why would I cut off my only source of funding? There is not a freakin bank in the US that will lend me a penny after bankrupting half of NJ with my big beautiful casinos. Poroshenko was a close associate of mine. I think I was in love. He is a beautiful person, absolutely beautiful. He told me how much he admired me and wanted to be like me. I mean you can’t fault a guy with such wonderful insight. Besides, he had already arranged the financing for my Ukraine Trump Towers. The guy was an absolute genius raising money from the Ruskies.

Lawyer: Well Dotard…errr Trump, now I understand why your legal team told you to NEVER testify under oath. I rest my case.

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