GOP sen­a­tors call the re­lease of rough tran­script a mis­take

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Robert Costa

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.

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