We do not have a transcript of the phone call that Donald Trump made to incoming Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. We should have a transcript, but over a year ago Trump ended the practice of announcing phone calls to foreign leaders and stopped providing the “readouts” that had been in practice through both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades.
In fact, the best knowledge we have of Trump’s conversation comes, as it does in many instances, from what the person on the other end of the phone has reported. In this case, Zelensky’s government page informs us that, “Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.”
What’s not on Zelensky’s page is that Trump made that description of “corruption cases” very specific. He insisted on an investigation into Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, “about eight times.”
But even if we had a complete and accurate transcript of that phone call, it’s unlikely it would record Trump saying, “I’m not going to release the aid package that you need to survive until you give me what I want to use against Biden, so get moving.” Even though we’re now at the point where Republicans in Congress and the right-wing media would both rush to explain how it’s totally okay for Trump to extort a foreign country, and Bill Barr would jump in to make it clear even suggesting that Trump did something amiss is a crime, there’s a good reason no such phrase would be found—Trump simply doesn’t talk that way.
Back in February, when former Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen explained gave his testimony before the House Oversight Committee back, he made it clear that Trump never told himd directly to “Go out, violate campaign finance law, and silence these women. But Cohen got the message.
Because Trump is both a bully and a coward, and he has a habit of delivering threats in a way that lets him claim that it was never a threat at all.
Asked to describe how Trump ordered his actions without actually giving detailed orders, Cohen explained the ways things usually work at the Trump Organization.
Cohen: It would be no different if I said, ‘That’s the nicest looking tie I’ve ever seen, isn’t it?’ What are you going to do, you going to fight with him? The answer is no, but you’re going to say ‘Yes, it’s the nicest looking tie I’ve ever seen.’ That’s how he speaks. He doesn’t give you questions. He doesn’t give you orders. He speaks in a code.
Countably, Trump did something very similar with Zelensky. He never actually told him “do this or else,” instead he repeatedly put pressure on the Ukranian president, going over the same point again, and again (and again, again, again, again, and again) until Trump was absolutely sure his point had been made. Nice country you got there, shame if you didn’t get the military aid you need to keep it together because you wouldn’t give me what I wanted.
As this thing (Whistlegate? Blowgazi? TrumpBeingTrump?) ticks toward the next phase, there’s no doubt that Trump and his supporters will turn their “laughs” toward the idea that Trump ever said something directly threatening to the Ukraine. He did not have to. Donald Trump is practiced in the fine art of letting people know he’s going to screw them over, while not saying something that his lawyers can’t dodge in court. Expect the same thing this time.
But it shouldn’t matter one tiny bit.