The release of the transcript of the conversation of President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy falls a quid short of a pro quo but still raises troubling questions. As I have discussed on CBS and BBC, the transcript shows that Trump never expressly tied military aid to the “favor.” However, he does push his counterpart to reopen the investigation and even promises to put together a call with his private counsel Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr. However, the Justice Department has released a statement that Barr was not informed of the call by Trump and never spoke with the Ukrainians. While Republicans have called the release of the transcript as a mistake, I believe credit again should be given for the waiver of executive privilege. As with the Mueller report, the White House erred on the side of transparency and that should be noted. There remains a serious question for Congress to investigate but the transcript does not establish the quid pro quo that is practically needed for a compelling case of impeachment.
As I discuss in my column today, the transcript contains some positive elements for Trump. Yet, the subject of the call is deeply troubling and, at a minimum, shows appalling judgment on the part of the president.
The Democrats however will need far more than the whistleblower to make this case. They will need a witness who can tie Trump to a direct linkage between the military aid and the push for an investigation. There is no question that using public office for personal benefit would constitute an abuse of office and an impeachable offense.
There remains considerable skepticism that Pelosi is truly an impeachable convert. The Speaker can still effectively kill impeachment by pushing issues into court and letting the clock run out. The problem is that Democratic voters are clamoring for an actual impeachment and Pelosi may find it increasingly difficult to slow this train down.
I am on my way to Tampa to speak at the Biometrics conference, but will try to update with any developments on this fast moving story.