But the gap between Trump’s claims and the reality points to a deeper question of whether the public really knows what was said in the phone call. On the one hand, the transcript is not verbatim, the White House’s cloak-and-dagger handling of records of the call betrays concern about its contents, and there are indications of elisions in the document that was released. On the other hand, the transcript that was released is incriminating enough to cast doubt on the claim that the administration was trying to hide things.
David A. Graham: Trump’s incriminating conversation with the Ukrainian president
The White House didn’t violate standard procedure for releasing transcripts of calls with foreign leaders; there is no standard procedure, because releasing such transcripts is effectively unprecedented. But a whistle-blower complaint referred to “the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced—as is customary—by the White House Situation Room,” suggesting that a verbatim transcript does exist. The complaint also noted that records of the call were closely guarded and kept out of circulation, a claim that has been substantiated by reporting since.
In three places in the transcript, an ellipsis (a series of three dots) is used. That’s typically a marking that indicates where part of a conversation has been removed. The White House says the ellipses represent places where the speaker trailed off or paused, but current and former officials told The Washington Post that standard practice in such situations is to use dashes or “[inaudible]” in such cases.
Each of the three ellipses comes when Trump is lapsing into unproven conspiracy theories—the first two during a discussion of whether Russian hacking in the 2016 election was really a Ukrainian false flag, and the third when asking about his unsubstantiated accusations of wrongdoing by the Biden family. This makes the prospect of elisions in these key areas all the more important and tantalizing. Yet it is also imaginable that Trump veered into incoherence, as he sometimes does, leaving the notetakers befuddled or unable to reconstruct his words.
Many observers have noted that even though the whistle-blower was not on the call, the account that he or she offered aligns with the actual transcript, imparting credibility. It’s worth noting that the White House was aware of the complaint before releasing the transcript, though, and could have tailored its document to include only what was in the whistle-blower’s account.
Skeptics of the released transcript have also noted a discrepancy between the reported length of the call and the length of the transcript, especially in comparison with transcripts of calls with two other foreign leaders that were leaked in 2017. Trump and Zelensky spoke through interpreters, which could affect the length, but it’s not clear whether interpretation was simultaneous or not.