By Bradford Connatser, Tech Manager and Webmaster
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the house of representatives, was recently interviewed by Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes about the minutes of the conversation between Donald trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. One would think that McCarthy would be a quick student of the minutes, which takes less than a half hour to read (some are calling the minutes a "rough transcript"). Yet, he was conspicuously unprepared. Here is the passage from the minutes that is at the center of a highly consequential controversy (and interesting to those who appreciate the meanings of words), a controversy over whether trump expressed or implied a quid pro quo (Latin for "something for something"):
Zelensky: "We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next . . . specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United States for defense purposes."
trump: "I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it."
The American President then outlined the nature of this favor, though:
First: "As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible."
Second: "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it . . . . It sounds horrible to me."
When Scott Pelley read "I would like you to do us a favor though" to Keven McCarthy, McCarthy objected: "You just added another word." Pelley replied, "No. It's in the transcript." McCarthy pressed: "He said, 'I'd like you to do a favor though'?" Pelley replied, correctly, "Yes. It's in the White House transcript."
Why get hung up on such a small word? Why did McCarthy object to it? Because "though" requires an antecedent ("a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another"). So what "logically" preceded trump's use of the word "though?" Just what President Zelensky said: "We are almost ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United States for defense purposes." And what does "though" mean in the context of trump's reply? The word is used as an adverb--according to the Oxford English Dictionary, roughly equivalent to "However (indicating that a factor qualifies or imposes restrictions on what was said previously)." In this case, the use of "though" created a conditional statement (think of the word "if"), with the antecedent (result) being "more Javelins," and the conditions being "Investigate the origins of the Mueller Report" and "Get some dirt on my presumptive political rival."
That's why when Pelley exactly quoted from the minutes of the conversation between trump and the Ukrainian president, McCarthy's hackles bristled. What trump said to Zelensky was equivalent to saying, "The United States will provide Ukraine with military assistance if Ukraine 1) investigates the origins of the Mueller investigation and 2) investigates Joe Biden and his son for possible corruption." And that is textbook quid pro quo.
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