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Donald Trump’s Attempts to Clear Himself Only Made Things So Much Worse

Donald Trump sits in front of an American flag looking sweaty at the UN.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry to gather the specific articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. It was a painfully long time coming, and after months (years, really) of aggressively declaring his innocence, he seemed to be panicking yesterday.

Pelosi says he called her in the afternoon to see if they could make some sort of deal regarding the whistleblower complaint he’s been working so hard to bury. (Her response: “Tell your people to obey the law.”) Trump also tweeted that he would release the “transcript” of the call between himself and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that set off this entire ordeal.

Then, after Pelosi announced the inquiry, he tweeted that this is “A total Witch Hunt!” because Democrats “never even saw the transcript of the call,” which is kind of the point. You can’t say they don’t have grounds for impeachment because they don’t know what was said when one of the crimes you’re being accused of is forcing your own Justice Department to illegally hide the original complaint—not to mention that the point of launching an impeachment inquiry is to collect the details.

Anyway, Trump did release that transcript Wednesday morning. Well, sort of. It’s actually not a transcript at all, but rather a “memorandum” of the phone call, meaning it was pieced together from “the notes and recollections” of Situation Room and national security officers who were listening. It’s very reminiscent of Attorney General Wiliam Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report, which was seriously, let’s say, creative, with the way it interpreted the report’s findings.

But what’s really incredible is that even in the obviously doctored non-transcript that Trump himself authorized to be released, they’ve done a really bad job of hiding Trump’s crimes. At least with the Mueller Report, Barr’s summary gave some credence to Trump’s constant declarations of “NO OBSTRUCTION, NO COLLUSION.”

Here, it’s still really obvious that Trump was trying to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election, with a heavily implied quid pro quo.

The memo shows Trump very clearly asking Zelensky to work with Barr to investigate Joe Biden’s son. And while there are some convenient ellipses around the part where Trump might have explicitly said that he would withhold already promised aid money if Zelensky didn’t help, or if he promised something else in exchange for that help, the context is clear. He said that “the United States has been very very good to Ukraine,” but that that isn’t “reciprocal.” Trump told Zelensky he “would like you to do us a favor, though” immediately after Zelensky brought up aid money designated for Ukrainian defense.

And remember, this is the version of the story Trump felt comfortable releasing.

Trump apparently genuinely believes this memo makes him look good.

The White House felt so confident they even released talking points to Democrats, which they then recalled, probably because these points are ridiculous.

So that’s where we’re at now. The White House is still hiding the original whistleblower complaint, the “transcript” they released is still totally incriminating, and the Attorney General is so heavily and directly implicated that he should be recusing himself from any investigations moving forward, but definitely won’t.

Meanwhile, over in the House, six different committees are moving forward with their investigations to gather information for the actual articles of impeachment. Maxine Waters, who’s been leading this charge from Day 1, has a clear explanation of what that looks like:

(image: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.