WASHINGTON (CN) – As the impeachment inquiry focused Tuesday on two live witnesses to President Donald Trump’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, Senator Tim Kaine’s thoughts circled on a different phone call that Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin some five days later.
“What are the chances that in that call [Trump] didn’t say, ‘Oh, and by the way, I canceled military aide to Ukraine,” Kaine asked, speaking to Courthouse News in a lengthy interview that spanned elevators, escalators, hallways and one subway car between the U.S. Capitol and the Rayburn House Office Building.
Skeptical about the fact that Trump and Putin’s chat had been “advertised” as one about Siberian wildfires, the Virginia Democrat is curious about what other topics the U.S. and Russian leaders may have broached.
“Oh, by the way, I’ve instructed Brad Lighthizer not to do a trade deal with Ukraine,” the former vice-presidential candidate intoned, citing news reports about Trump’s orders to the U.S. trade representative. “Oh, by the way, I’m about to cancel $800 million in military construction projects that support NATO in Europe, to take the money into the wall.”
“What are the chances in that call that he did not say those things?” Kaine asked. “I think getting that transcript is really important, and I hope at the House that they’re trying to do that.”
As the former running-mate of ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kaine had an intimate perspective on the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. House leaders have made clear that they view the Trump administration’s actions in Ukraine as a continuation of those attempts to undermine the integrity of U.S. democracy.
In describing Trump’s Ukraine scandal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been fond of telling reporters: “All roads lead to Putin.”
Asked whether he agreed with that assessment, Kaine kept an open mind: “That’s unclear, and actually, that needn’t be the case for this to be problematic — because trying to get Ukraine to be engaged in an attempt to hack our election is bad enough.”
The Democrat had been referring to a narrative advanced by Trump and Republican legislators recasting the culprits of 2016 electoral shenanigans as the United States’ Ukrainian allies rather than its Russian adversaries.
House Democrats note that Putin advanced that narrative himself at a 2017 press conference, one impeachment witnesses have described as a disinformation campaign meant to pull Ukraine into the Kremlin’s zone of influence.