As for the “pressure,” Trump’s view is irrelevant, as is Zelensky’s effort to avoid Trump’s wrath by dismissing the pressure. Moreover, the degree of “pressure” might be relevant to a criminal charge of extortion, but we are concerned with solicitation of a bribe (a personal “deliverable” in the form of opposition research concocted to smear former vice president Joe Biden) and a violation of Trump’s oath of office.
The argument that Ukraine being unaware of the hold on aid is the weakest leg of this defense and has already been debunked. The Post reports: “Two senior U.S. officials told House impeachment investigators that Ukrainian leaders were aware nearly $400 million in congressionally approved security assistance had been frozen well before that information became public, undercutting a key point of President Trump’s ‘no quid pro quo’ defense.” We know from the testimony of Catherine Croft, a State Department expert on Ukraine, that its leaders "'found out very early on’ that the funds had been frozen — a decision the Office of Management and Budget made at Trump’s behest and circulated to other government officials on July 18.”
Likewise, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper, testified that both Kurt Volker and William B. Taylor Jr. indicated that Ukraine knew about the hold and was negotiating to have it lifted.
Moreover, in revised testimony, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland specifically stated, “Also I now do recall a conversation on September 1, 2019, in Warsaw with [Andriy] Yermak [an aide to Zelensky]. This brief pull-aside conversation followed the larger meeting involving Vice President Pence and President Zelensky, in which President Zelensky had raised the issue of the suspension of U.S. aid to Ukraine directly with Vice President Pence. After that large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
In sum, Ukraine was very much aware that vital U.S. military assistance necessary for its defense against Russian aggression was being held up by the president looking for confirmation of the debunked CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and manufactured evidence against Biden.
Finally, the fact that aid eventually went to Ukraine because the whole incident was coming to light in the media is not a defense for anything. Attempted murder is still a crime; soliciting a bribe does not mean the bribe worked. This is, frankly, the same lame argument former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and lawmakers like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have made. Repeating it does not make the argument any more valid.
The absence of any compelling factual or legal defense is no small matter. The president got caught soliciting a bribe and then tried to obstruct Congress and intimidate witnesses. Republicans are going to have to come up with much better rationales for sparing the president if they want to pass the straight-face test.