Ukraine scandal was a monthslong campaign of extortion for quid pro quo


Senator Lindsey “Stonewall” Graham said the other day that “if you could show me that, you know, Trump was actually engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.” “Stonewall” is, of course, lying. He does not care a wit about the facts.

“Stonewall” will not vote to convict Donald Trump on impeachment by the House, regardless of the weight of the evidence. As a former impeachment prosecutor of President Bill Clinton, this is reserved for consenting adults to an extramarital affair who lied about it (oh wait, Donald Trump has done this numerous times to his three wives). IOKIYAR.

The AP reported that “More than two months before the phone call that launched the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Ukraine’s newly elected leader was already worried about pressure from the U.S. president to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.” Ukrainian leader felt Trump pressure before taking office:

Volodymyr Zelenskiy gathered a small group of advisers on May 7 in Kyiv for a meeting that was supposed to be about his nation’s energy needs. Instead, the group spent most of the three-hour discussion talking about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for a probe and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the meeting.

The meeting came before Zelenskiy was inaugurated but about two weeks after Trump called to offer his congratulations on the night of the Ukrainian leader’s April 21 election.

The full details of what the two leaders discussed in that Easter Sunday phone call have never been publicly disclosed, and it is not clear whether Trump explicitly asked for an investigation of the Bidens.

* * *

The White House has offered only a bare-bones public readout on the April call, saying Trump urged Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms, increase prosperity and “root out corruption” [this is Trump code for the conspiracy theory about Ukraine having Hillary Clinton’s email servers, and manufacturing “dirt” on Joe Biden and his son]. Trump has said he would release a transcript of the first call, but the White House had no comment on when, or if, that might happen.

That would be … Never!

Trump’s July 25th phone call with President Zelinski involved a quid pro quo for an official visit to the White House and Javelin missiles in exchange for “a favor”: information on the conspiracy theory about Ukraine having Hillary Clinton’s email servers, and manufacturing “dirt” on Joe Biden and his son. “Play ball,” as the ambassadors to Ukraine testified in their opening statements, and Zelinkski would get his official White House visit.

High-level Ukrainian officials had received word of the security aid freeze by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times. Ukraine Knew of Aid Freeze by Early August, Undermining Trump Defense:

The problem was not bureaucratic, the Ukrainians were told. To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the interviews and records.

The timing of the communications, which have not previously been reported, shows that Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than acknowledged.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S. September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Aram Roston/File Photo

It also means that the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations.

The communications did not explicitly link the assistance freeze to the push by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani for the investigations. But in the communications, officials from the United States and Ukraine discuss the need to bring in the same senior aide to Mr. Zelensky who had been dealing with Mr. Giuliani about Mr. Trump’s demands for the investigations, signaling a possible link between the matters.

Days earlier, he had listened to Mr. Trump implore him on a half-hour call to pursue investigations touching on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Zelensky’s efforts to secure a visit to the White House — a symbolic affirmation of support he considered vital at a time when Russia continued to menace Ukraine’s eastern border — seemed to be stalled. American policy toward Ukraine was being guided not by career professionals but by Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Taylor testified to the impeachment investigators that he was told it was only on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw that the Ukrainians were directly informed by Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, that the aid would be dependent on Mr. Zelensky giving Mr. Trump something he wanted: an investigation into Burisma, the company that had employed Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter Biden.

* *

The disclosure that the Ukrainians knew of the freeze by early August corroborates, and provides additional details about, a claim made by a C.I.A. officer in his whistle-blower complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry by House Democrats.“

As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it,” the anonymous whistle-blower wrote. The [whistleblower] complainant said that he learned that the instruction to freeze the assistance “had come directly from the president,” and said it “might have a connection with the overall effort to pressure Ukrainian leadership.”

* * *

In conversations over several days in early August, a Pentagon official discussed the assistance freeze directly with a Ukrainian government official, according to records and interviews. The Pentagon official suggested that Mr. Mulvaney had been pushing for the assistance to be withheld, and urged the Ukrainians to reach out to him.

The Pentagon official described Mr. Mulvaney’s motivations only in broad terms but made clear that the same Ukrainian official, Andriy Yermak, who had been negotiating with Mr. Giuliani over the investigations and a White House visit being sought by Mr. Zelensky should also reach out to Mr. Mulvaney over the hold on military aid.

President Zelensky has said he knew about the holdup of the military aid before his meeting in Poland on Sept. 1 with Mr. Pence, but has been vague about exactly when he learned about it. “When I did find out, I raised it with Pence at a meeting in Warsaw,” he said this month.

* * *

In the days and weeks after top Ukrainian officials were alerted to the aid freeze, Mr. Sondland and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were working with Mr. Giuliani to draft a statement for Mr. Zelensky to deliver that would commit him to pursuing the investigations, according to text messages between the men turned over to the House impeachment investigators.

The text messages between Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and the top Zelensky aide did not mention the holdup of the aid. It was only in September, after the Warsaw meeting, that Mr. Taylor wrote in a text message to Mr. Sondland, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

After being informed on Sept. 1 in Warsaw that the aid would be released only if Mr. Zelensky agreed to the investigations, Ukrainian officials, including their national security adviser and defense minister, were troubled by their inability to get answers to questions about the freeze from United States officials, Mr. Taylor testified.

“Mr. Zelensky never did the interview and never made the public commitment sought by the White House, although a Ukrainian prosecutor later said he would “audit” a case involving the owner of the company that paid Hunter Biden as a board member.”

The White House also delayed Ukraine trade decision in August, a signal that U.S. suspension of cooperation extended beyond security funds:

The White House’s trade representative in late August withdrew a recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s trade privileges after John Bolton, then-national security adviser, warned him that President Trump probably would oppose any action that benefited the government in Kyiv, according to people briefed on the matter.

The warning to Robert E. Light­hizer came as Trump was withholding $391 million in military aid and security assistance from Ukraine. House Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry into allegations that the president did so to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business activities of former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter. As part of the inquiry, lawmakers are closely scrutinizing the White House’s actions between July and September.

The August exchange between Bolton and Lighthizer over the trade matter represents the first indication that the administration’s suspension of assistance to Ukraine extended beyond the congressionally authorized military aid and security assistance to other government programs. It is not clear whether Trump directed Bolton to intervene over Ukraine’s trade privileges or was even aware of the discussion.

“It was pulled back shortly before it was going to POTUS’s desk,” one administration official said, referring to the Ukraine paperwork and using an acronym for the U.S. president. “Bolton intervened with Lighthizer to block it.”

In response to questions from The Washington Post, another administration official said the presidential proclamation about the trade status of Ukraine and two other nations had been held up for several weeks in the office of the White House staff secretary as part of a routine “country review process.”

One former U.S. government official said the president wanted “the total elimination” of the global trade program at issue. Known as the “generalized system of preferences,” or GSP, it allows 120 countries to ship roughly 1.5 percent of total U.S. imports without paying tariffs.

But in March 2018, Trump signed legislation reauthorizing the program through 2020, and Lighthizer in recent weeks has been negotiating with India over restoring its GSP status, which was suspended in March.

Bolton resigned Sept. 10, one day before the administration released the military aid under pressure from lawmakers.

In early October, nearly two months after withdrawing the initial effort to restore Ukraine’s trade privileges, Lighthizer sent the necessary paperwork to the White House for a second time. He later withdrew it again, on Oct. 17, amid an intensifying storm over the president’s policy toward Ukraine.

The administration now plans to include the restoration of some of Ukraine’s suspended privileges in a package of trade measures slated for release this month, a person briefed on the planning said.

This account is based on interviews with 10 current and former administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Through a spokes­woman, Bolton declined to comment.

As David Corn writes, the The Trump-Ukraine Scandal: More than a Quid Pro Quo, It’s Extortion (excerpt)

William Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, had so much more to say. And his testimony shows there was more than one quid pro quo.

Throughout this spring and summer, Trump was using whatever leverage he had on Zelensky to force him to mount these political investigations. During this stretch, Zelensky and his aides desperately wanted a White House meeting with Trump—which would signal that despite Trump’s fondness for Vladimir Putin, the United States remained a strong partner of Ukraine, as it battled the Russian and Moscow-backed forces that had invaded eastern swaths of Ukraine. Yet Trump issued a condition: No investigation, no meeting. Taylor testified that he was informed that during a July 10 meeting between Ukrainian officials and top White House officials, Sondland told the Ukrainians that an Oval Office face to face between Zelensky and Trump was contingent on the “investigations.” (At that point in the meeting, John Bolton, then the national security adviser, abruptly ended the conversation, and top NSC official Fiona Hill told Taylor, according to his testimony, that Bolton later referred to this proposed arrangement as a “drug deal.”)

And Taylor had more to reveal about this. In September, Taylor testified, Sondland informed him that he, Sondland, had committed a mistake when he earlier had told the Ukrainians that a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky was dependent on Zelensky publicly announcing these show investigations; instead, “everything,” including the withheld security assistance, was conditioned on such an announcement. Here was Sondland acknowledging there had been not one but two quid pro quos: the military money and a White House meeting, if Zelensky submitted to Trump’s demand.

Then there was the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. According to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House, when the Ukrainian president raised the subject of obtaining from the Trump administration more Javelin anti-tank missiles—which the Ukrainians could use against the Russian invaders in the east—Trump immediately responded with the now-infamous line: “I would like you to do us a favor though.” He then pushed Zelensky to investigate both that nutty theory about the 2016 election and “the other thing”—the Bidens. Trump and his GOP defenders have repeatedly said there was no quid pro quo in this call. That’s bunk. You want missiles? Then give me information I can use to clear the Russians and harm a political foe. 

Add it up, and you have three quid pro quos. [Four if you add withholding Ukraine’s trade privileges]. Or one huge quid pro quo with three distinct parts. The Ukrainians were looking for the security assistance that Congress had already authorized and the Pentagon had cleared for release. They desired a get-together in the Oval Office between Trump and Zelensky. And they wanted more Javelin missiles. [Four, restoring Ukraine’s trade privileges]. In response to each of these requests, Trump said, first give me political dirt. And a crucial part of the deal would be Zelensky publicly proclaiming that the Bidens were under investigation, which in and of itself would taint Biden and create a controversy for him.

Taylor’s testimony is a strong indictment of Trump and the henchmen, including Rudy Giuliani, he used to muscle Zelensky. It details not an impetuous act but a monthslong campaign on Trump’s part to squeeze Zelensky, and Trump exploited US government policy and funds for this moblike extortion racket.

So there you go “Stonewall,” there are at least three, and perhaps four, quid pro quo demands of extortion from the Trump White House — that we know about (there could be more). Only the White House visit and Javelin missiles were “inside the phone call” on July 25th.

Ukrainian government officials knew even before taking office in April what Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani wanted from them. They’ve always known and understood what was implicit: “Nice little country you got here, it would be a shame if anything bad happened to it, do you know what I mean?