U.S. Senate majority leader addresses Trump's impeachment
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Again and again during the House impeachment hearings we heard one Republican after another assert "four facts" in Trump's defense. The phrasing varied, but the assertions remained substantively unchanged. Here they are in capsule form as expressed by Rep. Jim Jordan on Fox News in response to the interviewer's comment about the hearings that "You did not engage each other so nothing was done." Jordan's reply is like a spousal batterer ("she just won't listen!"):
- I get that but again, they won't accept the facts. Four facts have never changed, they will never change. They've always been there. We have the transcript. There was no quid pro quo on the transcript. We have the two guys who were on the call. President Trump, President Zelensky, both have said no pressure, no pushing, no linkage of an investigation to the security assistance money. We have the fact Ukraine didn't even know aid was paused at the time of the call and most importantly Ukraine took no action, i.e., never made any announcement of investigation into anybody let alone the Bidens to get the aid released. Those facts have always been there but they don't care....
Yes, we have "the transcript." It is not a verbatim transcript, it is a composite transcript compiled from the notes of an unknown number of notetakers who listened to the 30-minute phone call as it happened on July 25, 2019. In the words of the White House: "The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Officers and NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place." There is no assurance that this is a complete or fully accurate transcript, but it is five pages long, single-spaced and is the best record we have of this phone call between two presidents. No one knows whether a verbatim transcript exists. So what does this composite transcript show about the Republicans' alleged "four facts"?
#1 "There was no quid pro quo on the transcript."
The phrase "quid pro quo" has no inherent value. A quid pro quo can be good in one circumstance or bad in another. The phrase means, literally, "something for something," an exchange of items of value made freely or under duress. A quid pro quo can exist in a variety forms from proposal to completed deal. The transcript shows that on July 25, both presidents were considering a variety of quid pro quo arrangements without formally settling on any specific tradeoff.
- President Zelensky is the first to ask for a quid, that the US bring pressure to bear on the European Union to enforce sanctions against the Russian Federation. The US is on record supporting those sanctions. President Trump never addresses the ask (page 2).
- President Zelensky promptly asks for a second quid (page 2): "I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes." This is a core issue. Javelins are anti-tank weapons that are already available for use to check a possible Russian tank attack in the Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists are fighting Ukrainian forces in what is essentially a civil war. Both presidents here know that the Javelins are part of the $391 million aid package that has been approved by all the interested agencies of the US, only to be held back by the White House. Trump knows this. Zelensky may or may not know about the hold, he surely knows the aid has not arrived and here he is gently inquiring about it. (He doesn't say what Rudy Giuliani told his aide in a recent conversation (page 3).
- President Trump does not respond to requests about sanctions or Javelins. His immediate response is an ask of his own, or a quo (page 3): "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine." Trump's references to Crowdstrike and Robert Mueller make clear that he's asking for an investigation of alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election. This allegation is actually Russian disinformation.
- President Trump asks again for this investigation (page 3): "I would like to have the Attorney General [William Barr] call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it."
- President Trump asks a third time for this investigation (page 3): "Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible."
- President Zelinsky immediately accepts Trump's request, apparently unconditionally, but without specificity (page 3): "Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier." After more general expressions of mutual friendship and "strategic partnership," Zelensky concludes with an apparent confirmation of a tacit quid pro quo: "... in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you."
- President Trump says "good," seeming to approve the quid pro quo as presently framed. Then he immediately moves to a new ask, another quo. In muddy fashion, Trump asks for some sort of an investigation that involves Yuriy Lutsenko, former Ukrainian prosecutor from May 2016 to August 2019. [In 2010, Lutsenko had been convicted of corruption, sentenced to four years in prison, and he was later pardoned in 2013. During 2018-2019, Lutsenko was instrumental in sharing information with Rudy Giuliani and helping to get US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch removed on April 25, four days after Zelensky was elected president].
- President Trump, in the same passage, asks for an investigation into the Bidens, another quo (page 4): "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..." [Trump is referring to events in 2015 when Biden, acting with the backing of the US, EU, IMF and others in the international community, pressured Ukraine to fire prosecutor Viktor Shokin. In 2016 Lutsenko succeeded Shokin. Both prosecutors looked into Burisma, Hunter Biden's employer. Neither prosecutor brought a case against Burisma. Lutsenko now says there was no case to be brought. Currently, the Trump campaign is running an ad that falsifies these events.] The only current relevance of Trump's interest is Burisma is that it potentially hurts a possible future opponent, Joe Biden.
- President Zelensky again responds with apparent acceptance of Trump's request (page 4): "I understand and I'm knowledgeable about the situation... the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue." Zelensky makes a promise asked for by Trump. He says he knows what's going on and implies that he expects a quid pro quo. He refers to a company that Trump has not mentioned in this conversation. And Zelensky promises his prosecutor will do what Zelensky asks. That is the bald face of corruption. If Trump cares a whit about corruption, this is where he interjects something about the rule of law. In reality, he is promising that his own prosecutor will be colluding in this plan to get at the Bidens.
- President Zelensky makes one more ask (page 5): "I also want to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also want to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation." Zelensky outlines a specific quid pro quo without calling it that.
- President Trump responds by repeating the quid pro quo in different words: "Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy [Giuliani] and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we'll work that out. I look forward to seeing you." On the face of it, the two presidents have reached an initial agreement on a quid pro quo, with the expectation of more to follow.
#2. "We have the two guys who were on the call. President Trump, President Zelensky, both have said no pressure, no pushing, no linkage of an investigation to the security assistance money."
This is a profoundly dishonest Republican talking point, riddled with irrelevance.
President Zelenksy and Ukraine desperately need US support to become and remain a free and independent democratic nation. ANY exchange with the US is inherently full of pressure for any Ukrainian president. The power imbalance is huge and continuing. The US is in a position to make offers that Ukraine can't refuse.
President Zelinsky is not going to say publicly that he felt pressured. That would be madness and against his national interest.
President Trump is not going to say he pressured Ukraine because he doesn't have to admit an obvious reality and he's comfortable lying.
There is no specific linkage investigation and the aid money, but there is an implicit linkage. When Zelinsky raises the aid issue, Trump's silence speaks volumes, and adds to the pressure.
There is a very specific linkage of an investigation and a White House visit. The White House visit is more important to Zelensky than most foreign presidents. Not only does Zelensky need to bolster his presidential credibility in any way he can, Ukraine need the US to show the Russians that it will be a reliable ally for Ukraine. For Ukraine, this is close to life and death.
The Republican talking point is disgusting in its distortion of reality and in its implied willingness to discard an actual reformer in Ukraine in defense of a corrupt destroyer in the US.
The reality for Ukraine is worse than Republicans or Trump ever admit. That reality includes the presence of the Russian military along the entire eastern border of Ukraine as well as active Russian involvement on the side of the separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Donbass region, since 2014. (Crimea is another constant issue for Ukraine.) The Russian involvement in the Donbass may not rise to the technical definition of war, but the combat has been intense enough to kill more than 13,000 people.
Zelensky is acutely aware of the Donbass, and resolving it has been one of his highest priorities. That's why he needs US support, as a check on Russia. That's why he needs Javelin missiles, as a check on Russian tanks coming into Ukraine. When Trump withholds military aid, including Javelins, he sends a signal that not only pressures Ukraine, but that also reassures Putin, reinforcing Trump's image as pro-Russian. Zelensky's vulnerability and Zelensky's limited maneuverability are apparent to anyone who examines his situation. For Republicans to act as if that situation does not exist is quintessential bad faith and tantamount to lying at an existential level.