In an interview with the Washington Examiner on Thursday, President Donald Trump floated an idea.
“At some point, I’m going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it,” he said of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky. “When you read it, it’s a straight call.”
That would be an incredibly bad idea.
Why? Well, for several reasons — the biggest of which is this: The transcript is pretty damn close to a smoking gun.
In it, Trump makes clear the United States does a lot for Ukraine, that Ukraine hasn’t reciprocated, asks Zelensky to look into Joe Biden and the former vice president’s son, Hunter, and says he will put Zelensky in touch with Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr.
While Trump doesn’t specifically use the words “quid pro quo,” the ask — and the context around it — seems pretty straightforward. We do a lot for you. You don’t do that much for us. Now we have an opportunity for you to be helpful to us. So, do it.
Trump has never seemed to understand how dangerous the transcript is to him and his political future. Since he authorized its release, he has repeatedly pointed to it as evidence that his call with Zelensky was “perfect.”
On Thursday morning, for example, Trump tweeted simply: “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”
Two days earlier, Trump sent this tweet:
“How many more Never Trumpers will be allowed to testify about a perfectly appropriate phone call when all anyone has to do is READ THE TRANSCRIPT! I knew people were listening in on the call (why would I say something inappropriate?), which was fine with me, but why so many?”
But the transcript doesn’t do what Trump seems to think it does. It, in fact, does the opposite of what Trump thinks it does — revealing a clear attempt to link the US’s work for Ukraine to a reward for you know, for the effort.
Don’t believe me? Just look at how support for impeachment and removal of Trump has surged in the wake of the revelation about the original call and then subsequent release of the rough transcript. It also doesn’t help Trump’s case that his contention that the transcript is an “exact” replica of the conversation has turned out to be false, according to witnesses testifying under oath in front of the relevant committees.
In short: The more people — especially those who follow politics only occasionally (at best) get exposed to this rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call, the worse it is for Trump. Reading the transcript in some sort of presidential address would shine a huge spotlight on a document that Trump is far better served to have understood only loosely — he didn’t say the words “quid pro quo” did he?!?! — by his allies.
That Trump doesn’t seem to get that speaks to a huge blind spot for him (and his administration) as he seeks to contain the damage from his decision to release the rough transcript.
Plus, and don’t undersell this reality, Trump’s demeanor doesn’t exactly lend itself to a “fireside chat” sort of vibe. Any time he speaks off of a teleprompter, he sounds robotic, rehearsed and tired. But when he’s not reading off the prompter, well, he can sound angry and offensive.
Then there’s this to consider: Fireside chats were popularized by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a way to communicate, explain to and reassure the country — especially during World War II. They were radio broadcasts in a time before TV and, yes, social media. FDR would often go on for a half hour or more. That simply wouldn’t fly in this day and age of “second-screen experiences” and constant social media updates. And even if updated for a modern audience, turning a presidential address into a political weapon sends a terrible message.
For all these reasons and more, a fireside chat to read the Ukraine transcript is a disastrously bad idea. Even for Trump.