Ideas
September 25, 2019 3:02 PM EDT
David French is a senior editor at The Dispatch and a columnist for Time. His next book, Divided We Fall, will be released in 2020. He is a former major in the United States Army Reserve.

The unredacted, declassified summary of Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky contains an express request that he work with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and it creates a powerful inference that this request was tied to the Ukrainian need for American Javelin missiles to assist in deterring Russian aggression.

The sequence in the call is damning. First, in the opening moments of the call—just after Trump congratulates Zelensky on his election victory, he raises direct concerns that while the U.S. has been “very good to Ukraine,” the nation not been “reciprocal necessarily” with the U.S.

There is nothing wrong in the abstract with a statement like this. Nations do seek quid pro quos all the time in international diplomacy. The relevant question is what the U.S. wants for its friendship.

That’s why the next paragraphs are so very crucial. Zelensky specifically thanks Trump for his “great support” in the area of defense and then specifically notes that Ukraine is “almost ready to buy” additional Javelin anti­tank missiles. These missiles are vitally important to Ukraine’s efforts to blunt Russia’s overwhelming military advantage by substantially raising the potential cost of further Russian military action.

How does Trump respond? The very next words out of his mouth are, “I would like you to do us a favor though …” The first thing he outlines is Ukrainian assistance in what appears to be continued investigation of the 2016 election. Trump says, “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine” and references CrowdStrike, the firm involved in investigating cyber­attacks on Democratic National Committee computer servers.

Zelensky responds with “yes,” saying the matter is “very important” to him. In the next paragraph, Trump goes further. He indicates that he would like Giuliani to call Zelensky, and asks Zelensky to talk to him. Then we get the key words. Trump says, “The other thing, 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.” Trump continues, “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

A fact-check is in order. Former Vice President Biden has boasted of his role in compelling Ukraine to fire its former chief prosecutor, but there is no evidence that Biden stopped any prosecution of his son Hunter. In fact, Biden was not only advancing Obama Administration policy, he was expressing the desires of key European Union allies. Yes, Biden was a poor messenger. Yes, his son’s business dealings in Ukraine created a conflict of interest. But there’s no evidence that Biden saved his son from prosecution.

Zelensky responds to Trump by assuring him that the next prosecutor will be “100% my person, my candidate,” and promises that “he or she will look into the situation.”

Paragraph by paragraph, the context unfolds. Trump complained about a lack of reciprocity in the relationship with Ukraine. Zelensky asks for missiles vital to his national defense. Trump asks Zelensky for additional investigation of matters related to the 2016 election, and Zelensky agrees. Trump then asks for Zelensky to talk to Trump’s personal attorney and investigate his political rival. Zelensky agrees.

Crucially, this conversation occurred after Trump reportedly intervened to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine.

It’s entirely unacceptable that a President would ask a foreign leader to work with personal counsel to investigate an American rival. These facts were plain before the transcript was released. But now the transcript raises serious questions abut Trump’s repeated denial of any “quid pro quo” with Ukraine.

When Trump demanded reciprocity, he made it clear what reciprocity meant, and it meant in part an investigation of a leading Democratic candidate for President. Under these facts, an impeachment inquiry is an entirely appropriate response.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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