Now Trump’s defenders have adopted a new talking point: It was a quid pro quo, but not a corrupt quid pro quo. According to this claim, Trump may have demanded that Ukraine combat corruption in exchange for releasing the aid, but he was simply trying to fight corruption overseas, a core principle of American foreign policy. That move might have skirted the law by holding up congressionally appropriated funds, but the move was fitting and well intentioned. The testimony released today cuts straight through that excuse, suggesting that not only did Trump hold up the aid in exchange for a statement (the quid pro quo), but he did so to further his own political prospects (the corrupt quid pro quo).
Among the documents released today is a set of text messages between American and Ukrainian officials, discussing a statement that Ukrainian officials understood was essential to getting the administration to agree to a White House meeting. On the evening of August 12, Yermak sent a draft statement to Kurt Volker, then a special envoy to Ukraine.
“Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States, especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians,” Yermak’s draft stated. “I want to declare that this is unacceptable. We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, which in turn will prevent a recurrence of this problem in the future.”
But that wasn’t enough for the Americans. Rudy Giuliani, Volker and Sondland both testified, insisted that any Ukrainian statement mention two specific things. The next afternoon, on a new chain adding Sondland, Volker sent Yermak an edited draft. “Following is text with insert at the end for the 2 key items. We will work on official request,” he said. The updated draft read:
Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States, especially with the alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians. I want to declare that this is unacceptable. We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent a recurrence of this problem in the future.
The “2 key items” are indeed important, because they connect directly back to Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky and the president’s obsessions. On that call, he brought up a baseless conspiracy theory holding that Ukraine was behind hacking in the 2016 U.S. election. In their testimony, both Volker and Sondland separately recounted an angry outburst from the president in an Oval Office meeting, in which he attacked Ukraine for its supposed opposition to his candidacy in 2016. “They tried to take me down,” the ambassadors each recalled him saying.