Remember when Bill Clinton was accused of trading White House access for political favors?
The Editorial Board/ The New York Times
“Heard from White House — Assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”
So wrote Kurt Volker, until recently President Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, to Andrey Yermak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on the morning of July 25, the same day Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky for “a favor” in their now-infamous phone call. Among a trove of encrypted texts that Mr. Volker turned over to Congress last week, this message is brief and informal. It is also a textbook example of a quid pro quo, one intended to advance not American foreign policy goals but Donald Trump’s re-election.
As the Ukraine scandal continues to unfold, there has been much disagreement about whether Mr. Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to the former Soviet republic in an attempt to bully its government into pursuing investigations that would benefit him politically. Mr. Trump had demanded that Ukraine look into whether former Vice President Joe Biden misused his office to protect his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. (There has been no evidence to suggest this.) He also wanted an inquiry into the (debunked) conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Democrats say Mr. Trump’s extortion attempt is undeniable, and even a few Republican lawmakers have expressed discomfort. But most members of the president’s party have stuck by him, insisting that a direct connection is not clear.
But Mr. Volker’s offer of July 25 could not have been more clear: If Mr. Zelensky agreed to give Mr. Trump the investigations he so desperately wanted, then Mr. Trump would give Mr. Zelensky the White House visit he so needed as a sign of the United States’ continued support of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. It is an exchange so explicit that even Mr. Trump’s fiercest apologists cannot wish it away.
What’s New in the Impeachment Case
The House subpoenaed the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget for documents about the Trump administration’s decision to withhold $391 million in security aid for Ukraine.
George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state and Ukraine expert, did not appear for a scheduled deposition with House Democrats, and several other witness interviews scheduled for this week are in doubt. Still, two key figures from the State Department were confirmed for depositions: Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, on Tuesday, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine, on Friday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo missed a Friday deadline to produce documents, even as the State Department continues talks with the House.We asked our colleague Charlie Savage what was at stake here: “It was predictable that the Trump administration would balk at turning over the subpoenaed documents related to the Ukraine matter — including many internal White House communications that any administration would see as covered by executive privilege,” he told us. “But the subpoena will likely also allow the House, if it chooses, to link an impeachment article about obstruction directly to the Ukraine scandal.”
More on that note: The Miami Herald reported today that two Florida businessmen who helped connect Rudy Giuliani to Ukrainian politicians would not comply with a request for documents and depositions from the three House committees conducting the impeachment investigation.Over the weekend, we learned that a new whistle-blower with “firsthand knowledge” has provided information related to President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
If further clarification is needed, several of the other texts Mr. Volker provided lay out the details of the negotiations and clarify just how serious Mr. Trump was about what another American official called “the deliverable.” Before a White House visit could be confirmed, Trump officials expected Mr. Zelensky to formally and publicly announce the desired investigations.
Mr. Yermak obviously grasped the terms of the agreement, but he seems to have suspected the Americans might not be as good as their word. In an Aug. 13 text, he told Mr. Volker: “I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all these things. Which we discussed yesterday.
When allegations arose of campaign-finance irregularities in the 1996 presidential election, including that Chinese interests had illegally funneled donations to the Clinton-Gore re-election effort, the Republican-controlled Senate started an investigation to determine whether any top campaign officials, or possibly even Vice President Al Gore, had been knowingly involved.On the House side, another Republican, Dan Burton, spearheaded a far more extensive investigation, which spanned two Congresses, cost upward of $7.4 million and turned the overzealous Mr. Burton into a political punch line.