House Democrats have released a batch of texts among State Department officials that tell a big story: President Trump has been leveraging the power of his office to coerce a foreign power into helping him rig the next U.S. election on his own behalf, not just in this or that crazy outburst or tweet, but rather as part of an extensive, long-running plot.
However, there’s even more to this story: The texts clearly contain a trail of clues that, if followed, may lead to a much more direct quid pro quo involving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, dangled as a prize to Ukraine in exchange for joining in his effort to corrupt our elections to his own benefit.
Pursuant to that end, Democrats can, and should, solicit the testimony of William B. “Bill” Taylor, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ukraine. That’s because Taylor alludes twice to a direct quid pro quo, in which hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine are directly conditioned on carrying out Trump’s political bidding.
Let’s first state that you don’t need a direct quid pro quo for Trump’s corrupt conduct to be impeachable. We already know from the rough White House transcript of Trump’s call that he pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to “investigate” potential political opponent Joe Biden, based on an entirely fabricated narrative, and to substantiate a fringe conspiracy theory undercutting the fact of Russian interference in our election on his behalf.
What we now know, thanks to the full batch of texts, is much worse. Here are three key revelations:
First, the texts show that State Department officials, taking direction from the White House, explicitly conditioned a meeting with Trump — which Zelensky badly wanted — on Ukraine helping to rig the next U.S. election on Trump’s behalf, by carrying out the investigations Trump wanted.
Just before the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker texted a Zelensky aide to say that he had “heard from White House” that “assuming” Zelensky were to persuade Trump that he will do the investigations, “we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”
Subsequent to this, on the July 25 call, Trump directly pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden. This text shows that Volker understood directly from the White House that this was the condition that must be met by Zelensky in order to secure that meeting.
Second, and importantly, the texts also show that Ukraine understood that the fate of its country’s relations with the United States rested on whether it carried out Trump’s political marching orders to interfere in a U.S. election and investigate Trump’s political opponent.
During Ukraine’s efforts to get that meeting with Trump, a top aide to Zelensky texted Volker on Aug. 10 that “once we have a date” for the meeting, Ukraine will outline a “vision for the reboot” of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, “including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.”
That’s striking. It shows that Zelensky’s aide believed that Ukraine’s relations with the United States — something that obviously has great significance for that country — turned on doing the “investigations” Trump wanted, both to smear a political opponent and to discredit our own intelligence services’ conclusion about the Russian attack on our political system.
Third, the texts set up a clear line for further inquiry that will likely produce even more damning revelations. They strongly suggest that Trump made hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine directly contingent on that country doing his political bidding.
On Sept. 1, as Ukraine was still trying to get that meeting with Trump, there was this exchange between Taylor and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union:
Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?Sondland: Call me
Note that Taylor says the security assistance is also conditioned on doing Trump’s bidding. And then, on Sept. 9, Taylor again raises this concern, texting Sondland that he worried that holding up the security assistance was sending a terrible “message” about the steadfastness of U.S. support to Ukraine, and, crucially, to Russia as well. After this, Taylor texted:
As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Sondland flatly rejected this categorization, saying there was no quid pro quo on Trump’s part, then signed off.
But the key here is that Taylor had a reason for saying these things. Something he witnessed, heard, or knows made him think there was such a quid pro quo.
“Taylor articulates his overwhelming sense that there is a shakedown and a quid pro quo in the making,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, told me. “And he clearly protests to try to stop the sellout of U.S. foreign policy.”
Raskin added that Taylor was basically a direct witness to “the president’s attempt to turn U.S. foreign policy into an instrument of his reelection campaign.”
This would seem to suggest that Democrats can learn a lot more from Tayor, if they can question him directly. “I hope that Congress and the American people get a further chance to hear from Mr. Taylor,” Raskin said.
Again, you don’t need the quid pro quo for all this to be impeachable. But these texts are clearly a signal that there is still a lot more to learn — and that it could be still worse than we know.
“The president’s telephone conversation on July 25 was the culmination of a whole process by which Trump and [Rudy] Giuliani tried to coerce the Ukrainian government to do their political bidding," Raskin told me. “We’ve got the shakedown in plain view. But all of the telltale signs of a quid pro quo are all over this operation."
And to think that the impeachment inquiry is only just beginning.