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Unpacking The Reactions To The Trump-Zelenskiy Call Memorandum


OK. So less and less doubt about some of the essential facts here; a question about what they mean - is this an abuse of power or a perfect phone call, as the president said, and what else is there? And Noel is here to bring another voice into the conversation.


Yeah. NPR's Tamara Keith is at the White House. Hey, Tam.


KING: So the president had been insisting that the details of this call, if they were made public, would exonerate him. Based on what you've seen of this document, does it do that?



KEITH: Absolutely not. I mean, if - it's not normal to have the president of the United States approaching another country and saying, please investigate my political rival, and please talk to my personal attorney about it; he's got some information for you. That is not normal, and what Democrats argue is that it is an abuse of power, and the president of the United States should not be doing that.

So what the president and his allies will say is, but, hey, look - there was no quid pro quo. The president didn't threaten to take away military aid; he just said, do this thing for me. What Democrats will say is, you don't need a quid pro quo for what the president did, according to this transcript, to be wrong.

KING: OK. Tam, I wonder, what have you been hearing from the White House, from the president's advisers, about how this whole thing has been handled? Is there a suggestion that this could have been avoided if the White House had released these details earlier or that it should not have released them at all?

KEITH: No. The White House believes that - I mean, they are releasing this and saying that, you know, once you see the transcript, you'll see there's no problem. I talked to one of the president's outside lawyers, one of his personal lawyers not named Rudy Giuliani, and he said, you know, Democrats got out ahead of themselves. You'll see there's no quid pro quo - nothing.

So the White House is sort of setting - the White House and the president's allies are setting a bar here. They're saying there has to be quid pro quo for there to be a problem. That is not the bar that Democrats in Congress are using, and Democrats are going to make an argument that this is not acceptable, not OK and is a violation of U.S. law.

INSKEEP: Also, to be clear, military aid was suspended, whether it was discussed on the call or not.

KEITH: Exactly. That military aid was held for about 10 weeks without explanation and was held starting about a week before that phone call that the president made to the president of Ukraine.

KING: So once again, Tam, a lot of this will come down to whose bar we are using when it comes to questions of right, wrong, unethical, ethical, legal, illegal.

White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.