White House releases memo of Trump's April call with Ukraine's Zelenskiy

Key Points
  • The White House releases a memorandum of an April 21 phone call between President Trump and then-Ukrainian President-elect Volodimyr Zelenskiy.
  • No summary of the call was released at the time, but diplomats testified it was brief and uneventful.
  • Trump touts the call as "more important" than his July 25 call with Zelenskiy because this one came "first."
White House details April 21st phone call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky
White House details April 21st phone call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky

The White House on Friday released a rough transcript of President Donald Trump's first phone call with then-Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but the text does not confirm the Trump administration's previous summary about the conversation.

The call was made on April 21, three months before their July 25 conversation, which sparked the House impeachment inquiry.

In a previous readout of the call, the White House claimed that Trump had expressed a commitment to work with Ukraine to "implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption." But the description at the time from the White House is not matched by memorandum. Trump also did not underscore the "unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity — within its internationally recognized borders," as the White House had claimed.

In the April call, Trump invited Zelenskiy to the White House, according to the four-page memo, which says in a footnote that it is "not a verbatim transcript of a discussion." Zelenskiy had just won the election that day, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko by about 75% to 25%.

"I'd like to invite you to the White House. We'll have a lot of things to talk about, but we're with you all the way," Trump said.

Trump also told Zelenskiy, "When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented." Trump owned the beauty pageant from 1996 to 2015.

The conversation lasted 16 minutes, according to the memo.

The memo about the call was released minutes before the start of Day 2 of the House Intelligence Committee's public hearings into impeachment began. Friday's sole scheduled witness was Marie Yovanovitch, who was appointed by President Barack Obama as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and was recalled by Trump in May.

Trump lashed out at her on Twitter on Friday as she testified that his words about her in the July 25 phone call with the Ukraine president "sounded like a threat."

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Trump himself opted to release the memo about the April call, describing it as "more important" than their second conversation three months later, in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

That July 25 call, which was flagged in a whistleblower complaint, spurred the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Here are the key highlights of the first public impeachment hearing
Here are the key highlights of the first public impeachment hearing

Witnesses have testified about the Trump administration's efforts toward Ukraine, including the shadow foreign policy efforts pursued by Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

"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.

Trump has claimed that a crucial military aid package to Ukraine had been delayed for months because of concerns about corruption. The delay in aid, which was eventually received by Ukraine in September, is a key piece of the allegation that Trump pressured Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on the Bidens.

Impeachment hearings on the hill resume. Here's what to expect
Impeachment hearings on the hill resume. Here's what to expect

The congratulatory phone call adds yet another layer to the record of communications between the White House and the government of Ukraine.

According to U.S. diplomats who have testified to House investigators about the call, it was arranged so that Trump could congratulate the newly elected Zelenskiy on his victory, a fairly standard practice among leaders of allied countries.

Yovanovitch testified behind closed doors last month that she heard the call was largely uneventful. "It was a good call," it was brief, and Trump and Zelenskiy "hit it off," Yovanovitch said she was told.

Read the memorandum of the first call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.