Trump’s First Zelenskiy Call: ‘Miss Universe’ and an Invitation

(Bloomberg) -- The White House released a summary of an April call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, part of an effort to demonstrate that the president’s interactions with the country’s government don’t merit impeachment.

The new record documents a telephone conversation that took place immediately after Zelenskiy was elected president, and the White House said it shows that nothing irregular took place. There is no mention of military assistance to Ukraine or investigations of Trump’s political rivals, two subjects under scrutiny in the House impeachment inquiry currently unfolding in the Capitol.

It is the second such memorandum the White House has made public. The first memo, released in September, documented a July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

“The president took the unprecedented steps to declassify and release the transcripts of both of his phone calls with President Zelenskiy so that every American can see he did nothing wrong,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Neither record is a verbatim transcript, however. And the memo documenting the first call doesn’t match a contemporaneous summary of the conversation that the White House issued the same day.

Easter Sunday Call

Trump placed the call from Air Force One on April 21, returning from an Easter weekend trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. He told the newly elected Ukrainian leader that he admired his country because of his experience owning and operating the Miss Universe pageant, according to the White House memorandum.

“When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people,” Trump said. “Ukraine was always very well represented.”

Zelenskiy invited Trump to his inauguration during the call.

“I’ll look into that,” Trump said.

Trump’s First Zelenskiy Call: ‘Miss Universe’ and an Invitation

Trump invited his Ukraine counterpart to the White House. “We’ll have a lot of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way,” Trump said.

“Well, thank you for the invitation and look forward to the visit,” Zelenskiy said. “The whole team and I are looking forward to that visit.”

The official White House readout of the call said that Trump “underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – within its internationally recognized borders – and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

But according to the memorandum released Friday, Trump expressed no such sentiments. The words “sovereignty,” “democracy” and “corruption” don’t appear in the document.

Important Meeting

Testimony in the impeachment inquiry has shown that the Ukrainians considered it imperative to secure a White House meeting for Zelenskiy, an important show of support from a key ally for a new president establishing his government.

But one issue the House is examining is whether Trump later withheld that meeting as part of a scheme to pressure Zelenskiy into conducting investigations that would politically benefit the U.S. president. Trump wanted probes of discredited allegations that the Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election and that former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s 2020 presidential rivals, squelched a criminal probe into a company, Burisma Holdings, which employed Hunter Biden as a board member.

Trump’s First Zelenskiy Call: ‘Miss Universe’ and an Invitation

The U.S. House inquiry focuses on whether Trump abused his power by trying to pressure the Ukrainian leader.

An earlier memorandum the White House released documenting a July 25 call with Zelenskiy showed that Trump asked him to “do us a favor” after Zelenskiy inquired about obtaining more U.S. military equipment, including anti-tank missiles.

Trump then asked for investigations of Ukrainian election inteference and, later, of the Bidens and Burisma.

Trump has repeatedly said the July 25 call was “perfect” and has denied any wrongdoing. He said earlier this week he would release what he called a “transcript” of his April call with Zelenskiy.

While the memorandum of the July 25 call was marked classified and entered into a secure electronic storage system at the White House, the memo documenting the April call was not considered sensitive. The document is marked “unclassified.”

The White House released the memorandum of the earlier call just as the House began its second public hearing in the impeachment inquiry. Representative Devin Nunes, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, read aloud the entire memorandum of the April call, apparently to reinforce GOP arguments that Trump did nothing wrong.

Grisham said Trump watched Nunes’ opening statement, “but the rest of the day he will be working hard for the American people.” But the president less than an hour later tweeted attacks on the hearing’s witness, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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