One of the central Republican talking points in the Ukraine
scandal has been that the Ukrainian aid package was ultimately released without
President Trump getting his requested announcement from President Zelensky that
Ukraine was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma. If Ukraine
got its aid without submitting to Trump’s demand, the president’s defenders
argue, then how could there have been a quid pro quo? The answer was not always
readily apparent, but, as more information comes out, the inner workings of the
secret deal are becoming known.
For example, at first, it appeared that the quid pro quo for
aid might relate solely to the July 25 phone call between the two presidents.
After testimony from numerous Trump-appointed State Department officials, however, it now seems
that trading aid for political favors had been official Trump Administration
policy for weeks, if not months.
Likewise, light is also being shed on the Ukrainian side of
the deal. The New
York Times reported last week that, after the Ukrainians initially protested
to Bill Taylor that they “did not want to be used as a pawn in a U.S.
re-election campaign,” they bowed to pressure and became willing to make the
announcement to get the US aid they needed to fight Russia-backed rebel forces.
Accepting Trump’s demand to make an announcement would have risked jeopardizing
future aid by politicizing the Ukrainian war, but the Zelensky government felt
that it had no choice.
“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not
occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had
been discussing for many weeks,” Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified to Congress.
Per the Times report, President Trump wanted Zelensky to make
the announcement on CNN, but, aware that Trump considered CNN to be “fake news,”
the Ukrainians were concerned that an appearance on the network work would
further alienate Trump. But Trump had also tweeted in August that Fox News “isn’t working for us anymore.” The Ukrainians finally scheduled
an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sept. 13 in which the announcement would
have been made.
As Bill Taylor testified last week, “Ambassador Sondland
said that this conversation concluded with President Zelensky agreeing to make
a public statement in an interview on CNN.”
confirmed that an interview agreement was close, saying, “Things picked up
around August and September, I went to Kiev to meet with him. It seemed it was
confirmed. And then it fell apart.”
But why did the Zelensky interview never happen? On Sept.
9, the inspector general of the intelligence community notified Democrats
and Republicans of the House intelligence committee that he had received the
whistleblower complaint and found the information credible. The Trump Administration
released the aid package two days later on Sept. 11.
Even at that point, it isn’t clear that President Trump
authorized release of the aid. Bloomberg reported last week that, because September was the last month of the federal
fiscal year, the aid money had to be spent by Sept. 30 or else it would have to
be reappropriated by Congress. To spend the money by the end of the month, it
had to start moving around the middle of the month because of a two-week
notification requirement for Congress.
National Security Advisor John Bolton, an outspoken critic
of Trump’s extortion plan, stepped up in early September and authorized the
State Department to spend the money. The move reportedly took the White House by
surprise. A week later, Bolton resigned.
In the end, the Republican claim of “no harm, no foul” falls
apart unless you think that incompetence is an adequate defense for abuse of
power. President Trump clearly intended to a quid pro quo that would have
benefited his reelection campaign by smearing Joe Biden, the likely Democratic
nominee. That the scheme fell apart before it came to fruition is not a credit
to the president’s ethics and morality. Rather, the Republican argument that an
unsuccessful crime is not a crime at all is reminiscent of Sideshow Bob’s claim
that he was imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit.
“Attempted murder,” lamented Bob to the Simpson family way
back in season six. “Now honestly what is that? Can you win a Nobel Prize for
The evidence points toward an unethical quid pro quo in
which President Trump abused his presidential power to attempt political gain.
The attempt almost succeeded, but the fact that it failed does not exonerate
the president. If he emerges from the Ukraine scandal unpunished, there is
every indication that he will continue to abuse his office as long as he holds