GOP senators call the release of rough transcript a mistake
WASHINGTON — Several Senate Republicans were privately stunned Wednesday and questioned the White House’s judgment after it released a rough transcript of President Donald Trump’s call with the Ukraine president that showed Trump offering the help of the U.S. attorney general to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
One Senate Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the summary’s release was a “huge mistake” that the GOP now has to defend — while the party argues that House Democrats are overreaching with their impeachment inquiry of Trump.
Three other GOP senators complained that the White House erred by releasing the rough transcript, arguing that it sets a precedent for future presidents about disclosure of calls with foreign leaders and could be seen as a concession to Democrats.
But they saved most of those complaints for closed-door talks Wednesday, calling Trump the linchpin of their party and critical for their prospects in the 2020 election.
As Republican senators left a closed-door luncheon Wednesday, they were mostly supportive of the president and dismissive of the memo, even as some lawmakers and their aides groused behind the scenes about the White House’s response.
There were scattered statements about whether Trump handled the call appropriately, but any sense of alarm was muted.
“As a general rule, transcripts of phone conversations between heads of state should not be released. In this case, an exception had to be made,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., pointing out that some Senate Republicans had asked the president to release the document.
He added that he was not troubled by its content.
“It’s a decision for the White House,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said when asked about the release, calling out Democrats for “hating” Trump.
“It’s unprecedented that he’s released it and there are some ramifications for the office, but people were clamoring for all the information, and he’s giving it,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who attended a White House meeting to review the rough transcript.
While many Republicans continue to dismiss Democrats’ impeachment efforts, cracks have begun to emerge privately as GOP lawmakers have discussed Trump’s conduct and their party’s political standing. Those fault lines could foreshadow how Senate Republicans ultimately handle a trial, should the House impeach the president, according to several lawmakers and aides.
In the rough transcript of the July 25 call, Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate the conduct of Biden and offered to meet with the foreign leader at the White House after he promised to conduct such an inquiry.
Those statements and others in the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy were so concerning that the intelligence community inspector general thought them a possible violation of campaign finance law.
Trump has denied doing anything improper, but lawmakers have raised concerns about his directive to freeze nearly $400 million in military assistance for Ukraine in the days leading up the phone call with Zelenskiy.
“It remains troubling in the extreme. It’s deeply troubling,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Wednesday when asked about the document.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., echoed other Republicans in arguing there was “no quid pro quo,” adding, “while the conversation reported in the memorandum relating to alleged Ukrainian corruption and Vice President Biden’s son was inappropriate, it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., also was dismissive.
“Wow. Impeachment over this? What a nothing (nonquid pro quo) burger,” he tweeted.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., argued there was “no quid pro quo” in President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine.