A leaked phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is set to play an important role in the presidential impeachment hearings in Washington, former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told Fox’s Maria Bartiromo on Nov. 3.
The tense call in 2017 saw Trump and Turnbull clash over a resettlement deal brokered under the Obama Administration, which would see the United States take up to 2,000 economic migrants who had been held on the islands of Nauru and Manus under the country’s offshore processing policy.
The White House transcript, leaked to The Washington Post, showed Turnbull pushing Trump to honor an Obama deal the day after Trump announced a controversial travel ban on certain Middle Eastern countries.
Trump vehemently opposed the deal, telling Turnbull his acceptance would make him appear as a “weak and ineffective leader.”
“Here, I am calling for a ban where I am not letting anybody in and we take 2,000 people,” he said.
Bannon said that the high-level leak resulted in the White House restricting the recording of phone calls with foreign leaders going forward.
Whistleblower Warns Cover-Up
But records of Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are now at the center of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s impeachment investigation.
Trump was accused in the phone call of coercing Zelensky to investigate corruption allegations involving Hunter Biden and his father and Trump’s rival presidential candidate, Joe Biden, while linking the call with earlier action by Trump to block millions in military aid from being released to Ukraine.
A senior official who listened in on the call, Tim Morrison, has since testified that he “was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”
He added that the Ukrainians didn’t know about the hold on aid until the news was leaked to the media on Aug. 28 after the Trump–Zelensky phone call.
Earlier testimony from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, suggested that the president had made clear the release of this aid was conditional on the corruption allegations involving Biden being investigated. However, Trump had said that he had held up the aid because of serious corruption in the country and to spur European partners to shoulder a greater share of NATO costs.
Trump has repeatedly called the impeachment probe against him the “greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”
Bannon told The Australian that the upcoming impeachment hearings are “inextricably linked” with the phone call between Turnbull and Trump because after the conversation was leaked to the media, the White House was forced to change its processes and restrict records of the president’s phone calls.
According to Bannon, Zelensky’s call was restricted to allow for a more open conversation with Trump after the chaos of Australia’s leaked call.
“We said at that time ‘this has to be really restricted for people like Malcolm Turnbull to feel that they can have an open and direct conversation with the President,’” he said.
Records of the Trump–Zelensky call were subsequently moved from the system where presidential call transcripts are typically stored to a restricted server reserved for the government’s most sensitive secrets.
American Crony Capitalism
Bannon also urged Republicans to call Biden and his son to be witnesses in the upcoming impeachment enquiry.
He told Bartiromo: “Joe Biden … this is about him as a Constitutional officer, this is about him as vice president of the United States in Ukraine and in China”—the two countries related to the corruption allegations against Biden.
“He’s going to have to answer to these panels exactly what he did, about bringing American crony capitalism to already what is considered one of the most corrupt nations on earth and the most corrupt nation—as the Guardian newspaper says—in Europe,” Bannon said.
Bannon’s comments come just days after the House passed a resolution which formalized the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry. While Republicans are able to call witnesses, the resolution says they must be deemed acceptable by Schiff and House Democrats to be allowed to testify.