On Tuesday we learned that the rough transcript released by the White House of the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky was something short of complete. That’s according to Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who told House investigators that he sought, unsuccessfully, to include Trump mentioning to Zelensky that tapes existed of Joe Biden.
Which is verrrrrry interesting – primarily because Trump himself has repeatedly insisted that the transcript released by his White House was absolutely exact.
Twice in a press conference earlier this month, Trump went out of his way to say the rough transcript was, in fact, a verbatim recounting of his call with Zelensky. “I had a transcript done by very, very talented people – word for word, comma for comma,” said Trump at one point in that early October news conference. “Done by people that do it for a living. We had an exact transcript.” Later, he added that the document was “an exact transcript of my call, done by very talented people that do this – exact, word for word.”
Trump echoed that sentiment on Twitter as well.
“Where is the Whistleblower, or the 2nd Whistleblower, or the ‘informant?’” he asked in a tweet on October 20. “All gone because their so-called story didn’t come even close to matching up with the exact transcript of the phone call.”
On October 14, he had expressed a similar thought: “Democrat’s game was foiled when we caught Schiff fraudulently making up my Ukraine conversation, when I released the exact conversation Transcript.” And again five days prior: “The so-called Whistleblower, before knowing I was going to release the exact Transcript, stated that my call with the Ukrainian President was ‘crazy, frightening, and completely lacking in substance related to national security.’ This is a very big Lie. Read the Transcript!”
What’s very clear here is that Trump is hanging a lot – a whole lot – on the idea that the transcript released by his White House was a verbatim recording of the conversation he had with Zelensky. Which, well, never made any sense because stamped right at the bottom of the transcript – which the White House released! – was this warning:
“A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation.· (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and-NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A number of factors can affect the accuracy of the record, including poor telecommunications connections and variations in accent and/or interpretation. The word “inaudible” is used to indicate portions of a conversation that the notetaker was unable to hear.”
It’s right there in the transcript! That this is not a transcript.
So you have to ask yourself this basic question: Why, given that it was made very clear that this was never a verbatim log of the Trump-Zelensky conversation, did the President invest so much rhetorical firepower in trying to present it that way?
There are a two obvious answers to that question, ranging from not so bad to, well, very bad.
1) Trump is a serial exaggerator and story teller. He sees only what he wants to see and hears only what he wants to hear. Facts are fungible. And so, in his mind, the transcript exonerates him so it must be a perfect recollection of how his chat with Zelensky went down.
2) Trump knew that he said things to Zelensky that weren’t in the rough transcript. Things about the Bidens. So, from the second the transcript was released, he started a rhetorical campaign to frame the document as the final and complete word on the conversation – under the theory that enough people would believe him no matter what the transcript actually showed.
Given that no one in the know on this story believes that what was left out of the transcript fundamentally alters our understanding of the call – the former option seems the more likely at least at this point. That Trump’s misleading statements about the fulsomeness of the transcript are more a result of his tendency toward boasting than any sort of more broad (and nefarious) attempt to cover up elements of the conversation that haven’t emerged yet.
But still! The President of the United States very likely knows what he said on that call, and knows that not every word he said was in the rough transcript. Or if he doesn’t know it, some senior staffer has likely informed him of that fact – probably multiple times – in recent weeks. And yet, he still misleads.
All of which is yet another reminder of Trump’s character and his commitment not to truth, but to himself.