Now that we have the notes of the conversation between Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump’s defenders are using the argument that while he did urge that the president to investigate Hunter Biden, there was no explicit quid pro quo tying that request to the release of the military aid that Trump had halted just the week before.
This is laughable. Kevin Drum posts an abridged version of the conversation and the quid pro quo just leaps out and slaps you across the face because after Zelenskiy says, “We are ready to buy more weapons from you”, Trump immediately responds, “I would like you to do us a favor though” and first asks him to look into the DNC server hack and then to investigate Joe Biden’s son. He says that his attorney general and Rudy Giuliani will be contacting him about the matter. Remember, Giuliani is Trump’s personal lawyer, not a member of the administration.
That is as blatant a quid pro quo as one can get. Former Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had been angling for the attorney general job after Trump was elected, before the transcript was released described what kind of language would get Trump in trouble.
For instance, if he’s saying, listen, do me a favor, go investigate Joe Biden, that’s one thing. If he’s saying, listen, I’m concerned about corruption, you’ve just gotten elected. We send hundreds of millions of dollars over there, you need to start looking at this, for instance, one of the things that occurred was the Hunter Biden situation, that becomes totally different.”
And the former is exactly what Trump actually said: “I would like you to do us a favor.”
Other lawyers have piled on. Conservative lawyer and columnist for the right wing National Review David French writes:
I haven’t been a litigator since 2015. I haven’t conducted a proper cross-examination since 2014. But if I couldn’t walk a witness, judge, and jury through the transcript of Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and demonstrate that a quid pro quo was more likely than not, then I should just hang up my suit and retire in disgrace. Far from being “scattershot” — as my esteemed colleague Kyle Smith declares — the actual sequence is extremely tight, and the asks are very clear.
Indeed, as I also laid out today in Time and on Twitter, the sequence unfolds quite literally in consecutive paragraphs.
First, right near the beginning of the call, President Trump signals his displeasure with Ukraine
In the next paragraph, Zelensky responds with the key ask. He wants more Javelin missiles, an indispensable weapon system in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.
And what is Trump’s response? The next words out of his mouth are, “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’m honestly puzzled that Trump’s defenders online are claiming any kind of vindication over the contents of this transcript. It admits one profound abuse of power, and it implies another, even worse, violation of the public trust.
Kevin Drum says that an attorney friend of his writes that “In the legal world, where there is well-established case law on what constitutes a QPQ, particularly in criminal matters, the Ukrainegate transcript would appear to fall into the garden-variety lay-up category.”
But that is not all. Ukrainian sources are also saying that there was quite an explicit understanding on their part that Trump wanted them to did up dirt on Biden.
When Ukrainians voted to elect comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy as their next president in the spring of 2019, the fledgling administration was eager to coordinate a phone call with Kyiv’s most important benefactor — the United States, according to an adviser to Zelenskiy.
But after weeks of discussions with American officials, Ukrainian officials came to recognize a precondition to any executive correspondence, the adviser said.
“It was clear that [President Donald] Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case,” said Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption advocate and former member of Ukraine’s Parliament, who now acts as an adviser to Zelenskiy. “This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.”
So there we are. The next few days will see Trump and his supporters do what they always do when cornered and that is try to deflect attention to some other topic until interest in this one dies down. This time they will have to really pull out the stops because this issue has legs.
Trevor Noah is astonished that Trump thought the release of the quasi-transcript would exonerate him.