Democrats are right when they say that Trump’s attempt to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son is impeachable, regardless of whether a quid pro quo was involved. But as Kevin Drum recently pointed out, impeachment is a political process and it is “absolutely critical that Trump is shown to have withheld vital military aid to an ally unless they agreed to help Trump in his reelection campaign.”
Since this story broke, the president has consistently claimed that there was no quid pro quo. For example, he tweeted this.
….You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
That is why a lot of people were surprised when Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, basically affirmed that withholding military aid to Ukraine was, in fact, a quid pro quo. He went on to suggest that we should all “get over it” because everybody does it.
Yes, there was a quid pro quo. https://t.co/232gjXy2EA
— Nancy LeTourneau (@Smartypants60) October 17, 2019
But here’s the catch: Mulvaney admitted that military aid was held up over Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election – not to get them to investigate Trump’s 2020 potential political opponent. Someone in the White House seems to have calculated that a quid pro quo to pressure a foreign government into confirming a conspiracy theory is not illegal, after all, the attorney general has been traveling the globe to accomplish the same thing.
Recognizing the damage he had done, Mulvaney issued a statement later in the day suggesting that he hadn’t said what we all heard him say.
Mulvaney issued a statement Thursday afternoon accusing the media of “misconstruing” his earlier remarks to the press at the White House “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.”
“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” Mulvaney said. “The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.”
Along with Mulvaney’s initial admission, however, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that when Rick Perry tried to arrange a meeting between Trump and Zelensky, he was directed to work with Giuliani (emphasis mine).
[Perry] told the WSJ that Giuliani expressed several concerns he and Trump had about the Ukrainian government’s alleged pro-Hillary Clinton interference in the 2016 election, including the conservative conspiracy theory that a trove of Clinton’s deleted emails are hidden somewhere in Ukraine. None of these allegations have been substantiated.
There appears to be an attempt from someone in the Trump administration to suggest that the quid pro quo was related to a conspiracy theory that it was actually Ukraine—not Russia— that interfered in the 2016 election. It is important to be clear that the whole idea is completely bonkers. Even the president’s former homeland security advisor has said so publicly.
But let’s also remember what Trump said during his phone call with Zelensky. Here are some excerpts from the transcript released by the White House.
I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation…I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. 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…
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.
To the extent that Zelensky was aware that he was being offered a quid pro quo, Trump made it clear that it involved both an investigation into the conspiracy theory and Joe Biden. The president’s own words confirm that.