By: Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WASHINGTON - The release Wednesday of a written account of the phone call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine drew wildly different interpretations by defenders and critics of Trump.
Consider the reactions of several Wisconsin lawmakers to the substance of the phone call, in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s potential challenger in the 2020 election.
“Now we know President Trump solicited interference from Ukraine in our 2020 election,” Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said on Twitter Wednesday after the release of a written summary record of the call by U.S. government note-takers.
“This is a threat to our national security and democracy. By law, the Trump (administration) needs to provide the whistleblower complaint & Inspector General report to Congress. That needs to happen now,” said Baldwin, who voiced her support for the first time Tuesday of an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House.
Meanwhile, veteran GOP lawmaker Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin said the substance of the phone call showed there wasn’t anything damning about Trump’s conversation.
“This is really nothing,” Sensenbrenner said in an interview Wednesday.
The senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said that “Democrats put the cart before the horse” when they announced Tuesday they were launching an impeachment inquiry before seeing the written notes of the phone call.
He rejected the idea that the call shows any “quid pro quo,” meaning evidence that Trump was asking Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son in exchange for U.S. aid and support.
“There was nothing related to military aid (in the call) except the fact that the U.S. is doing its share and Germany is not,” Sensenbrenner said.
Trump had placed U.S. aid to Ukraine on hold in the days prior to the phone call.
Asked if it troubled him that the U.S. president was asking a foreign leader to investigate his own potential opponent in the 2020 election, Sensenbrenner said Trump “is doing his job” by looking into possible corruption on the part of an American citizen, even if it’s his political opponent.
“If I had firsthand evidence my opponent in an election committed a federal crime, (then) by not reporting it to the FBI, I would have committed a crime myself. Here the president wanted to get to bottom of it,” said Sensenbrenner, referring to the unsubstantiated assertion that as vice president, Biden helped secure the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor in order to prevent an investigation affecting Biden’s son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Sensenbrenner said the controversy over Trump’s phone call is “made up by people who have been spending two and half years trying to get Trump. … This transcript to me tells me that this is not a legal issue against Trump. This is a political issue, and Democrats are using their majority in the House of Representatives in order to try to influence an election.”
Interviewed Wednesday, House Democrat Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said Trump’s defenders are “dizzy with spin.”
The written account of the phone call is “confirmation of the president’s confession that he asked the leader of another government to essentially get information on a political opponent’s family,” he said.
Pocan said the key document in his mind is not the account of the phone call but the report of the intelligence whistleblower whose complaint about the president ultimately pushed the story into the public domain, a report sent to the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
But the Democratic lawmaker said the essential element of a “quid pro quo” was clear in the nature and context of Trump's conversation with Zelensky and the White House decision prior to the call to withhold military aid to Ukraine — even if Trump didn’t explicitly tie his request for an investigation to the threat of withholding aid.
“No one would actually expect anyone to say (in a conversation) things like ‘it’s a quid pro quo.’ That would be ridiculous. You only read that in a bad novel,” Pocan said. "A few days prior (to the call) he's holding the funding up, and asking for a favor" in the call involving investigations of Democrats.
Pocan said accusations about Biden’s involvement in Ukraine were “ridiculous” and that the president and his supporters were “desperate to try to change the subject.”
Fellow House Democrat Gwen Moore said in a statement: “The memo confirms that Trump solicited a foreign leader to advance his electoral chances. This is a blatant disregard for the rule of law. But the president is not above the law.”
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday that "it seemed like a pretty appropriate call from my standpoint.”
While Trump talked about both Biden and the Russia investigation, “to me, that's not an inappropriate thing ... to talk about. And this obviously, he's got a personal connection, because potentially improper activity was directed at him,” Johnson said. “I understand the president’s frustration here."
Johnson, who was one of the GOP lawmakers invited to the White House on Wednesday to discuss the call before the call summary was released, said he saw nothing wrong with Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, playing a key role in the Ukraine matter because "the president sometimes can appoint different people to work for him, speak on his behalf. That’s up to the president.”
House Republican Mike Gallagher said in a statement: “Most Americans do not support impeachment, yet Speaker Pelosi is taking this serious step without all the facts. That is profoundly irresponsible and the call transcript already contradicts key claims from anonymous sources. In light of all that, I’m glad the Administration supports full transparency.”
House Republican Glenn Grothman issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the impeachment inquiry, saying "important business before the House has ground to a halt due to these distractions."
Grothman said it was appropriate for Trump to have a "broad discussion" with the Ukraine president about corruption, and said there are legitimate questions about "why Hunter Biden was employed by Ukrainian-based gas company, Burisma Holdings, at the same time his father oversaw Ukrainian relations for the Obama Administration."