President Trump’s oft-made claim that “there is no quid pro quo!” with Ukraine is, shall we say, not faring well.
In testimony released this week, William Taylor, acting US ambassador to Ukraine, told the House impeachment inquiry that it was his “clear understanding” that congressionally appropriated military assistance for Ukraine, which was frozen by the Trump administration, would not be released until Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, committed to an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, amended his previous testimony to include the fact that he told Ukrainian officials that resumption of US aid would not happen unless Kyiv made a public announcement of an investigation into Biden.
That’s the definition of a quid pro quo.
But what is perhaps even greater substantiation of Trump’s guilt is the White House’s inability to come up with any reasonable explanation for why military aid was frozen to Ukraine in the first place.
The White House has repeatedly claimed that the delay was because of Trump’s concerns over corruption in Ukraine.
In acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s ill-fated press conference, where he admitted there had been a quid pro quo with Ukraine (an admission he later retracted), he offered more detail about the president’s thinking.
Mulvaney said the president had told him about Ukraine, “This is a corrupt place . . . I don’t want to send them money and have them waste it.”
Trump also supposedly complained that the burden of supporting Ukraine fell too heavily on the United States, which led Mulvaney to conduct an analysis of what other countries were doing “in terms of supporting Ukraine.”
Let’s for a moment take the White House at its word: The president was so worried about corruption in Ukraine that he was willing to personally order a freeze on the aid.
Why, then, didn’t Trump mention corruption during his infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky, or even the delay in military assistance?
Why, months earlier, did he push to have US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch removed, even though she had developed a reputation in Kyiv for aggressively pushing an anti-corruption agenda?
Why didn’t Trump consult with Taylor, Sondland, or any other official responsible for US policy to Ukraine?
Taylor testified to House investigators that he’d actually been impressed by Zelensky’s appointment of reformist ministers and his support for long-stalled anti-corruption measures.
He said the Pentagon had been tasked with analyzing the efficacy of US assistance to Ukraine — and within one day responded that it was effective and should be resumed. He also testified it was the unanimous view of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries that the hold on aid should be lifted.
If Trump was so worried about corruption in Kyiv, why did he ignore the mountain of evidence that should have dimmed those concerns?
What about Mulvaney’s claim that European countries weren’t helping Ukraine? While it’s true the United States gives more military assistance, as of 2017 the European Union had provided $16.5 billion in total aid — military and nonmilitary — while the United States had given just $1.3 billion in recent years. The Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney oversees, did not respond to a request to provide a copy of the analysis Mulvaney said he’d pursued to address the president’s concerns.
Even before the story burst into public view, the administration was being cagey about Ukraine. In September, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois threatened to freeze $5 billion in Pentagon funding if the aid to Ukraine wasn’t released. Days later it was released, but according to Durbin’s office, “The White House did not give an explanation for why the aid had been delayed.”
If all this was on the up-and-up, why didn’t the White House tell anyone, including the Ukrainians, the reason it was holding up the money?
Of course, the very notion that Trump was concerned about corruption is laughable. He is perhaps the most personally corrupt figure ever to serve as president. His administration has sought cuts in US foreign anti-corruption programs. And by pressuring Ukrainian officials to announce a sham inquiry of Biden, the president was calling for precisely the kind of politicized investigations that US policy claims to abhor.
The question of why military assistance to Ukraine was frozen is not an esoteric one. It goes to the heart of Trump’s abuse of power. That the White House cannot offer any reasonable defense for why the military aid was frozen, while the evidence of a quid pro quo is overwhelming, is more than just telling — it’s the reason Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.