THE MEMORANDUM on President Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a devastating indictment of the U.S. president. In it, Mr. Trump presses the neophyte Ukrainian leader to join with his personal lawyer and the U.S. attorney general in investigating his potential opponent in the 2020 election, Joe Biden. He does so after underlining the support the United States provides for Ukraine and after complaining that Ukraine has not adequately reciprocated.
Mr. Trump and his amen chorus claimed Wednesday that there was no “quid pro quo” in the call. In fact, the memorandum — a partial transcript compiled from the notes of aides — strongly suggests otherwise. Mr. Trump first makes a request for a political investigation in direct answer to Mr. Zelensky’s statement that Ukraine wants to buy more U.S. antitank missiles. “I would like you to do us a favor though,” Mr. Trump says, “because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”
An even more explicit exchange comes when discussion turns to Mr. Zelensky’s top priority at the time, which was obtaining a firm commitment to a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. The Ukrainian leader felt he needed a Washington visit to show his country and Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would continue to have U.S. support against Russian aggression, but Mr. Trump had been stalling in granting a date. Toward the end of the call, Mr. Zelensky raises the subject of a visit, then reiterates that “I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation.”
Mr. Trump, who knew very well what Mr. Zelensky wanted, responds: “Good. . . . I will tell Rudy [Giuliani] and Attorney General [William P.] Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call.” The implicit trade-off could hardly have been more clear.
Mr. Zelensky never got that Oval Office date, though he finally was able to meet Mr. Trump at the United Nations on Wednesday. Instead, Mr. Trump continued to string the Ukrainian leader along and to withhold nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid appropriated by Congress while Mr. Giuliani pressed Mr. Zelensky’s aides for an investigation of Mr. Biden as well as of the origin of revelations about criminal activity by Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman.
That Mr. Trump believed that this exchange would somehow exonerate him from charges that he abused his office is astonishing. That any member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, would conclude that it was “a nothing . . . burger,” in the words of the ever-more tolerant Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), only shows how degraded political norms have become under the Trump administration.
There is much for Congress to follow up on. It was encouraging that Senate Republicans voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a resolution calling for the administration to turn over a whistleblower complaint from a member of the intelligence community; that document, which was subsequently delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee, almost certainly contains more than was revealed by the White House memo. Those Republicans, and their House colleagues, ought to join with Democrats in seeking sworn testimony from Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Barr and State Department officials about what exactly they communicated to the Ukrainians before and after the phone call.
Mr. Trump has confirmed that, at a minimum, he heavily pressured a foreign leader to intervene in the 2020 election, while dangling a political favor and withholding congressionally approved aid. The integrity of U.S. democracy depends on how Congress and the nation respond.