Ukraine transcript reveals exactly how foreign leaders manipulate Trump’s vanity
President Donald Trump. (AFP/File / Brendan Smialowski)

On Wednesday, the White House released a partial transcript of a conversation President Donald Trump had with the president of Ukraine. The release of the transcript was meant to allay fears that Trump had promised Volodymyr Zelensky military aid in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden, a political opponent.


But the transcript raised more questions than it answered. Writing in Esquire, columnist Jack Holmes observes that the transcript is a revealing record on how Trump engages with foreign leaders—as well as how they respond to him.

Holmes observes that Zelensky flatters Trump by pledging to "drain the swamp" and praising Trump as a great teacher.

"Trump gushed in response, then went on a rant about all the problems he has with other European leaders and emphasized about how 'good' the U.S. has been to Ukraine," Holmes writes. "Zelensky agrees with everything he says without caveats, and in fact works to boost his claims. He then mentions Ukraine wants to buy more Javelins—anti-tank missiles—from the U.S., and Trump responds immediately by asking for 'a favor though because our country has been through a lot.'" Holmes writes.

"This smells a bit like the kind of quid pro quo Lindsey Graham told me wasn't in there, although Trump does not mention Biden specifically until the next exchange. He did, however, repeatedly suggest putting the Ukrainians in contact with Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr for the purposes of said investigation."

Even more revealing, in a later part of the conversation, Zelensky makes sure to let Trump know that when he visited New York he stayed in Trump Tower.

"Having flattered Trump relentlessly and nodded along to whatever he said, Zelensky came in with the tried-and-true finish: I stayed at your property and put money in your pocket," Holmes says. "This is the way you do business with the United States of America now. You call up our president, tell him he's a very good boy who everyone loves, and then hint that there's money in it for him if you have a productive relationship."