President Trump in April agreed to meet with Ukraine’s president-elect – without preconditions – in the first official phone call between the two leaders, according to a White House transcript released Friday morning, moments before the second public hearing as part of the House’s formal impeachment inquiry into the president.
Trump took the April 21 call with Volodymyr Zelensky while aboard Air Force One. The conversation predated the highly controversial conversation between the two presidents on July 25, which prompted the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Democrats, relying on a whistleblower complaint that first exposed that call, have claimed the previous call shows evidence of a “quid pro quo” — namely an investigation of a Trump political opponent in exchange for a public meeting between the presidents, and a release of critical U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
But in the transcript of the call released Friday, much of which is formal congratulations, Trump invites Zelensky to the White House, without any mention of investigations — as was the case in the July 25 phone call.
“When you’re settled in and ready, I’d like to invite you to the White House,” Trump says. “We’ll have a lot of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way.”
Zelensky replies: “Well, thank you for the invitation. We accept the invitation and look forward to the visit. Thank you again. The whole team and I are looking forward to the visit.”
Zelensky also, repeatedly, invited Trump to attend his inauguration — which Trump said he would “look into,” but said “at a very minimum, we’ll have a great representative. Or more than one from the United States will be with you on that great day.”
“So, we will have somebody, at a minimum, at a very, very high level, and they will be with you,” Trump continued. “Really, an incredible day for an incredible achievement.”
The two exchanged additional pleasantries about food and culture in Ukraine, and before ending the call, Trump said: "Take care of yourself and give a great speech today. You take care of yourself, and I’ll see you soon.”
Zelensky ends the call saying: “Thank you very much. I’ll see you very soon.”
The call was released just moments before the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, started testifying before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
“The President took the unprecedented steps to declassify and release the transcripts of both of his phone calls with President Zelensky so that every American can see he did nothing wrong," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Friday.
Meanwhile, during his opening statement, Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., read the transcript in its entirety.
“I read that into the record so now the American people know the very first call that President Trump had with Zelensky,” Nunes said.
At the center of the impeachment inquiry, which began in September, is President Trump’s second phone call – on July 25 – with Zelenksy. That call prompted a whistleblower complaint to the intelligence community inspector general, and in turn, the impeachment inquiry in the House.
On the call, Trump pressed Zelensky to open an investigation into Ukrainian election meddling in the 2016 presidential race and into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
The president’s request came after millions in U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been frozen, which Democrats and witnesses have cited as a quid pro quo arrangement.
Zelensky, though, has said he felt no pressure during the call. The White House has maintained no wrongdoing, and the president has repeatedly said the call was “perfect,” arguing that it contained “no quid pro quo.” The plot thickened when Taylor testified Wednesday that a staffer overheard a phone call where Trump discussed such "investigations," the day after his controversial phone call.