On late Friday morning, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he discussed Joe Biden or his family with the president of Ukraine. "It doesn't matter what I discuss," the Republican replied, giving everyone a pretty strong hint about what transpired in the phone call between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In reality, of course, it matters very much what Trump discusses with foreign leaders. In fact, literally within minutes of the president making the comment, the Wall Street Journal published a report alleging that Trump "repeatedly pressured" Zelensky to investigate Biden's son, urging the Ukrainian leader "about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump's potential 2020 opponent."
Yesterday, Trump turned to a familiar page in his playbook, effectively confirming that he did, in fact, talk about Biden with the leader of Ukraine, as was alleged. As the Washington Post noted, the president acknowledged this, out loud and on the record, during a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House's South lawn.
"The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don't want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine," Trump told reporters Sunday morning. "And Ukraine, Ukraine's got a lot of problems."
Later in Houston, Trump appeared to backtrack, saying, "I don't even want to mention it, but certainly I'd have the right to" raise Biden's name with Zelensky....
The Republican added yesterday that there was "no quid pro quo" with the Ukrainian leader, and while it's unclear whether or not the assertion is true, it's not exactly the only relevant detail in the scandal. As Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) put it yesterday, "The existence of an explicit quid pro quo -- aid for interference -- isn't really the thing. If he demanded a foreign government do his political bidding, that's when he crossed the critical threshold. No need to overthink this."
It's a compelling point. What we know at this point raises the specter of Trump urging a foreign government to look for -- or by some measures, manufacture -- damaging information Republicans could use to win an American election. We need to know whether there was a quid pro quo, but the absence of one wouldn't make the scandal disappear.
But what surprised me over the weekend was Trump's willingness to largely admit what he did.