Donald Trump has insisted, repeatedly, that there was no quid pro quo in his administration’s negotiations with the Ukranians and his pressing Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky for the “favor.”
Ukrainian officials clearly understood that normalizing relations with the United States could only be guaranteed by committing to investigate issues surrounding the 2016 campaign (the Crowdstrike conspiracy) and into Burisma, the Ukraine energy company that had Hunter Biden on its board. As they saw it, a “reboot” with America depended on it.
The key exchange from the texts is dated August 10th, two weeks after the infamous phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart. Andrey Yermak, an adviser to Ukrainian president Zelensky, trades messages with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations.
Yermak is working to secure a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump. But the U.S. officials have made it clear that cannot happen without what they appear to refer to in other texts “the deliverable” — a commitment by Ukraine to engage in election interference by seeking dirt on Trump’s rivals.
In the following exchange, Yermak has agreed to the American demands and is formulating a plan with Volker to publicly commit to the Trump-favored investigations in exchange for a date-certain White House meeting. Volker’s enthusastic response makes clear this is exactly what the American diplomat was waiting for.
Andrey Yermak: Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.
Kurt Volker: Sounds great!
The exchange points to a somewhat less explosive quid quo pro than the one that has been commonly alleged — that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was held up pending Ukraine’s cooperation.
But normalization of the relationship between the imperiled Eastern European nation and the U.S. is potentially a thing of even greater value. Ukraine certainly needs lethal weapons to defend itself from its Russian neighbor. But the greater deterrence of Kremlin aggression, arguably, is a public display of backing and allyship by the world’s global military superpower. A friendly public meeting between Trump and Zelensky would send an unmistakable message to Vladimir Putin: Back off.
Negotiations for a White House meeting did not come to a swift conclusion. But just today Urkaine committed publicly to review its past investigations for Burisma.
To be clear: The very act of asking a foreign government to interfere in our elections, that is the impeachable offense. But in these texts we see the abuse of power was taken to another level, with the U.S. diplomatic corps conditioning a renewal of U.S. backing for Ukraine on that country’s follow-through in investigating Trump’s political rival. At least one member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sees this in black and white:
We now know that Trump was using access to the White House to get a foreign government to help destroy his political rival.
There was an explicit quid pro quo: open an investigation into my rival, and I will invite you to the White House.
An important moment for our democracy.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 4, 2019
Quid pro quo.
Game. Set. Match.