(CNN) – On its own, then-President Donald Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a remarkable moment of using the power of the presidency to pressure a foreign power to dig up dirt against his likely 2020 general election opponent.
Hell, it got Trump impeached!
But that phone call by Trump actually looks worse in light of the new audio of a call between Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, US diplomat Kurt Volker and Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Zelensky, that came before Trump talked to Zelensky himself.
In that call, the full audio of which was obtained by CNN, Giuliani is blunt about a) what he (and Trump) want from Ukraine and b) what Zelensky might get in return.
“All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I’m gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence, that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out,” Giuliani tells Yermak on the call. “Somebody in Ukraine’s gotta take that seriously.”
That’s the “quid.” Then came the “pro quo.” Again, Giuliani:
“That would clear the air really well. And I think it would make it possible for me to come and make it possible, I think, for me to talk to the President (Trump) to see what I can do about making sure that whatever misunderstandings are put aside … I kinda think that this could be a good thing for having a much better relationship.”
Yermak would REALLY have to be clueless not to get the message there, right? Give Giuliani (and Trump) something they want and Zelensky will have a better chance of getting what he wants. Also, it’s worth remembering that the thing that Giuliani and Trump wanted was the public announcement of an investigation into the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine. And they wanted that public investigation because they saw Biden as the most likely Democratic nominee in the 2020 election.
Given what we now know about the Giuliani call, it’s worth reexamining the Trump call, which he repeatedly described as “perfect.” Here’s how I broke down the content of that call when the White House released a partial transcript of the call in September 2019:
1. Trump, after congratulating Zelensky on his win, very quickly establishes that the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine. “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are.”
2. He then makes clear that the US does a lot more for Ukraine than Ukraine does for the US.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
3. Trump directly asks Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
“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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
4. He suggests that Zelensky should talk to his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr.
“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”
5. And then Trump reiterates that suggestion
“I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
All of which was bad enough! Again, he got impeached — admittedly by a Democratic-controlled House — over that call!
But what the full audio of Giuliani’s call with Yermak reveals is that there was NO CHANCE that Zelensky didn’t know before he spoke with Trump a) what Trump wanted and b) what the Ukrainian president could hope to get for giving it to him.
That ground had already been tilled — and re-tilled — by Giuliani on the call with Yermak earlier in the month. The ask and the stakes of the ask were crystal clear. It is literally impossible to think that either Trump or Zelensky didn’t know exactly why the call was happening and what was expected.
So, yeah. We knew the call wasn’t “perfect.” But how imperfect it actually was came into a razor-sharp focus with the audio of the Giuliani call.