President Donald Trump releases a “transcript” clearly showing him asking a foreign leader to investigate one of Trump’s political opponents.
Trump’s Republican Party largely in unison claims, somehow, that the document proves Trump did nothing wrong.
Leaving the party’s exiles to wonder on what planet they are living.
“It’s kind of trite at this point to say, ‘Imagine if Obama had did this,’” said GOP consultant Rory Cooper about Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama. “But if Obama had done this, the ‘right’ would have lost their minds.”
Cooper, once a top aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said he was mystified by Republicans’ apparent belief that they could spin the memo on the call as helping Trump. “I can’t understand how anybody can read that as a good thing,” he said.
“It’s pretty clear in this summary the president asked the leader of a foreign nation to investigate a political foe,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a prominent Trump critic. “To hear Republican leaders that I previously had deep respect for to come out and give that knee-jerk response is stunning.”
Trump, who as late as Wednesday morning had claimed the “transcript” would show “a perfect call,” quickly changed tack to argue that it showed no explicit “quid-pro-quo.”
Even that claim, though, is belied by the “transcript,” which in reality is a reconstruction of the conversation by National Security Council staff and not a verbatim transcription.
Relatively early in the call, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says: “I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense,” and proceeds to detail the sort of missile system he would like to buy.
Trump’s response starts: “I would like you to do us a favor though,” after which he explains he wants Attorney General William Barr to speak to Ukrainian officials and “get to the bottom” of issues including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s involvement in a Ukrainian energy company.
Nevertheless, Republicans in both chambers of Congress and party leaders across the country adopted the “transcript clearly shows there was no quid pro quo” argument that was recommended in talking points distributed by the White House.
“Reveals no quid pro quo,” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey told reporters.
“Democrats overstepped with their ‘quid pro quo’ accusation,” Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw wrote on Twitter.
These and other Republicans are “never going to let go of Trump’s ankles. They’ll go down with him,” said former Illinois GOP Rep. Joe Walsh, who is challenging the president for the 2020 Republican nomination. “It’s hugely disappointing.”
Trump not only continued arguing Wednesday that he had done nothing wrong in his conversation with Zelensky, but went ahead with a joint photo opportunity with him following their first face-to-face meeting at the United Nations in New York.
Zelensky at first declined to get involved in U.S. politics but, sitting beside the man who controls the flow of military aid to his country, then told reporters: “Nobody pushed ― pushed me.”
Trump then added: “In other words, no pressure,” before going on to agree with an internet conspiracy theory that his 2016 Democratic opponent’s deleted emails have been cached somewhere in Ukraine.
“And then she said, as I remember it, that, ‘Oh, well, they had to do with the wedding and yoga.’ She does a lot of yoga, right?” Trump said of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the deleted messages. “So they had 33,000 emails about the wedding of her daughter and yoga. I don’t think so.”
He also told Zelensky, in response to the Ukrainian’s plea for help getting Russia to leave the Crimean peninsula that it has occupied since 2014, that “you lost Crimea” under Obama.
“It’s just one of those things,” Trump said in response to Zelensky’s repeated request for help in getting the territory back.
Last month, Trump appeared to excuse Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to hang onto the region. “Now it’s a very big area ― a very important area. Russia has its submarine. That is where they do their submarine work and that is where they dock large and powerful submarines,” he said at a news conference following the G-7 summit in France.
Walsh said he knows that congressional Republicans are tired of defending Trump’s continuing misdeeds, from the merely absurd to the potentially impeachable, but are too afraid to cross him and are betting that they can survive and retake control of the party after Trump leaves the presidency.
“It’s a bad bet. And they’re going to get burned,” Walsh said.