Former senior director of the WH Situation Room explains why a record of Trump’s phone call ‘should not be called a transcript’

Former senior director of the WH Situation Room explains why a record of Trump’s phone call ‘should not be called a transcript’
Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump image via MSNBC Screengrab

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after months of adamantly opposing an impeachment inquiry, changed her mind this week in response to reports that in July, President Donald Trump tried to pressure into Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating a political opponent — former Vice President Joe Biden — and his son Hunter Biden. Trump is insisting that he did nothing wrong and that a “complete, fully declassified and unredacted” record of his phone conversation with Zelensky will clear things up. But international studies professor James Goldgeier, in a Washington Post article, explains why such a “transcript” wouldn’t even come close to telling the whole story.

“The phone call is only one part of this story,” Goldgeier notes. “The administration has also been refusing to give Congress — as required by law — a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump made an improper ‘promise’ to a foreign government. By unanimous consent in a voice vote on a nonbinding resolution, the Senate called on the Trump Administration to release this complaint to the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

Goldgeier, a Robert Bosch visiting senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, acknowledges that “the release of the record of the call will be major news.” But Goldgeier quickly adds that “it is important to understand how documents like it come to be produced — and to remember that this is just one document of one moment in a longer series of events regarding the release of U.S. assistance to Ukraine.”

Goldgeier pointed out that Trump is known for speaking in “mafia code,” meaning that he can get his points across without coming right out and saying something in so many words — and if Trump used “mafia code” during his phone conservation with Zelensky, his defenders could easily spin his words in such a way as to claim that he did nothing improper.

Another thing to bear in mind, Goldgeier adds, is that notetaking is an “art” but not a “science.”

“The quality of the notes varies, depending on the number and quality of the note takers,”  Goldgeier  observes. “It might sound easy. It isn’t — particularly if there is only one note taker trying desperately to make a record of the conversation.”

Goldgeier goes on to say, “The record we will see should not be called a transcript. Beyond any coded way of speaking that the president might have, the record could be misleading in any number of ways. The notes may not have captured the exact wording — not for nefarious reasons, but simply because of the notetakers’ limited capacity to write as they listen, especially if only one person was taking notes.”

Goldgeier wraps up his piece by stressing that if a “transcript” of Trump’s phone conservation with Zelensky is made public, it is likely to be spun or interpreted in different ways — depending on how one feels about Trump.

“If this memorandum of telephone conversation is, in fact, released to the public, it will be just a single document freighted with all the challenges involved in understanding such materials,” Goldgeier asserts. “Its release is unlikely to end the debate. Instead, expect it to provide fuel to the ongoing partisan fire.”

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