When President Donald Trump released a quasi-transcript of his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he was trying to short-circuit a burgeoning scandal that was fueling a cry for his impeachment. Because there was no making-an-offer-you-can’t-refuse quid pro quo in the memo reconstructing the conversation, Trump believed he could spin this document into a defense. The truth was that this account contained an extremely quid-pro-quo-ish exchange. When Zelensky said Ukraine wanted more US anti-tank weapons, Trump immediately replied with a request for a “favor”: that is, Ukrainian-made dirt he could use against Joe Biden and the Robert Mueller investigation. Even though GOPers and conservative pundits did cite the document in echoing Trump’s claims of innocence, its release did not help the president and his crew. But there was one head of state it did indeed help: Vladimir Putin.
The memo included remarks from Zelensky that made the new and inexperienced Ukrainian leader—he was previously a television comedian—look pretty damn bad. In the conversation, he slavishly kowtows to Trump’s improper requests. He sucks up to the American president by noting he stayed in one of his properties on a trip to New York City. More significantly, he diminishes the assistance Ukraine has received in its fight against Russia from President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. “They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine,” Zelensky is quoted in the White House account. And Zelensky reportedly agreed to the release of the reconstructed transcript because he had the impression that Trump would only be putting out Trump’s side of the chat—not Zelensky’s. So it appears the Ukrainian leader got played.