When the White House on Friday released a memorandum of the first conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s president-elect, something popped out to eagle-eyed observers: The conversation was much different than the readout the White House issued at the time.
By Friday afternoon, the administration had managed to blame the discrepancies on a key impeachment probe witness, National Security Council official Alexander Vindman.
In April, when it released its readout of the call between the two leaders, the White House said Trump and then-Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky discussed heady diplomatic affairs — such as “the peaceful and democratic manner of the electoral process,” “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and the effort to “root out corruption” in Ukraine.
In contrast, the newly released memorandum of the call, which includes purported dialogue between the two men, doesn’t include any of that. Rather, it’s largely surface-level and even superficial.
“When I owned Miss Universe, [Ukraine] always had great people,” Trump told Zelensky over the phone. “Ukraine was always very well represented.”
What accounted for the difference? On Friday, a White House spokesperson blamed Vindman, the director for European affairs for the president’s National Security Council and a key witness in the ongoing impeachment probe.
“It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the President’s phone calls with foreign leaders,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.
“This one was prepared by the NSC’s Ukraine expert,” he said.
Blaming Vindman for the discrepancy between the paragraph-length summary and the three-page memorandum of the call is an interesting choice. That’s because Vindman has testified that the memorandum of the second, much more damning call between Trump and Zelensky did not actually reflect the full conversation. Vindman listened in to both calls as part of his NSC duties.
That July memorandum, unlike the memo of the leaders’ April discussion, is pock-marked with ellipses, and Vindman testified that it actually put words in the Ukrainian president’s mouth that Zelensky didn’t say.
Specifically, Vindman testified, Zelensky referred to the actual name of the natural gas company on whose board Hunter Biden sat, and into which Trump had asked Zelensky to open an investigation: “Burisma.”
But the call memorandum says Zelensky instead referred to Burisma as “the company that you mentioned in this issue.”
Another notable difference between the two calls is that there was no paragraph-long summary released for the second one. America’s own acting ambassador to Ukraine only found out about the call’s contents second-hand, when another NSC official told him that it “could have been better.”