Trump's weakest impeachment defense yet somehow blew up in his face

Trump's weakest impeachment defense yet somehow blew up in his face
President Donald Trump talks on the phone aboard Air Force One during a flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address a joint gathering of House and Senate Republicans, Thursday, January 26, 2017. This was the President’s first Trip aboard Air Force One. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

When President Donald Trump said he was planning to release the record of his April 21 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, many observers yawned. In the controversy surrounding the July 25 call, some had raised questions about Trump's only other call with the new leader, but interest in the April 21 conversation died down as the evidence against the president in the broader Ukraine scandal became so overwhelming and damning.


It was easy to assume that since Trump was so eager this week to release the record of the April 21 call, it would likely be insubstantial and only amount to a distraction for the core issues at impeachment. Jokes were already circulating about the idea that Trump would claim that, since he didn't commit any crimes on one call, he couldn't have possibly committed other crimes.

Yet somehow, the release of the new records — again, a decision made largely of Trump's own initiative — completely backfired.

The reason? The call transcript further undermines Republicans' already implausible defense of Trump's effort to induce Ukraine to investigate his political enemies: that he genuinely cares about fighting corruption.

Despite the fact that the original White House statement about the call claimed Trump and Zelensky discussed "reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption" — the U.S. president didn't mention corruption once on the April 24, according to the records. Likewise, Trump didn't mention fighting corruption in his July 25 call, either — he only mentioned investigations of his opponents.

These two facts dramatically undercut the argument that Trump was pursuing legitimate anti-corruption policy, rather than his own craven interests. But it gets worse.

Politico reported Friday night that "advisers suggested President Donald Trump raise the broad issue of corruption in his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on April 21, but Trump chose not to, according to a person familiar with the matter."

So, instead of supporting the idea that Trump really cares about fighting corruption — which always sounded like a joke — the focus on the April 21 call just emphasizes that the president is, in fact, actively uninterested in this foreign policy objective.

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