Ukraine: The quid pro quo evidence so far

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with President Trump on Sept. 25 in New York. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
  • The quids: A White House meeting for the Ukrainian president and resumption of U.S. military aid
  • The quo: Investigations into President Trump’s political opponents

Quid pro quo — Latin for “something for something” — is a common concept in foreign relations. U.S. assistance for other countries is typically contingent on an agreement to help achieve an American objective. The impeachment inquiry is focused on whether President Trump abused his office by seeking a quid pro quo from Ukraine that would benefit him personally rather than promote the country’s interests: namely, investigations of his political opponents.

There have been six episodes in which top Trump administration and Ukrainian officials discussed such a potential quid pro quo, according to congressional testimony, public statements and documents.

The majority of the conversations involved Trump’s allies pushing Ukraine to pursue the investigations Trump wanted in exchange for a White House meeting for the newly elected Ukrainian president. In congressional testimony on Nov. 20, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that there was an explicit “quid pro quo” when it came to Ukraine securing the White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Sondland also testified that he believed nearly $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine was frozen as part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, although he said he was not directly told that. He said he conveyed that message to a top aide to Zelensky at a meeting in Warsaw Sept. 1, telling him that U.S. aid would not resume until Ukraine announced the investigations.

February 2019

1. The Kyiv meeting

U.S. participants: Lev Parnas (left) and Igor Fruman (center)

Ukrainian participants: Then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) and prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko

The request: That Ukraine announce investigations into former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, and an unfounded conspiracy theory about the 2016 campaign in exchange for a state visit.

In a February meeting in Kyiv, Rudolph W. Giuliani associates Parnas and Fruman pressed Poroshenko to announce the investigations in exchange for a state visit, according to Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a lawyer for Parnas. The February meeting was also attended by Lutsenko, MacMahon said.

July 10

2. A sit-down of top advisers

U.S. participant: Gordon Sondland (left), ambassador to the European Union

Ukrainian participants: Andriy Yermak (center), aide to newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and incoming Ukrainian national security adviser Oleksandr Danyliuk (right)

The request: That the Ukrainians launch the political investigations in exchange for a meeting between Trump and Zelensky.

During a meeting at the White House on July 10, Sondland told Danyliuk, Yermak and other U.S. officials that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney approved a sit-down between the two presidents if “these investigations in the energy sector start,” according to testimony by National Security Council aide Fiona Hill. White House national security adviser John Bolton abruptly ended the discussion. At a second meeting that day, Sondland again brought up the investigations, emphasizing “the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens, and Burisma,” the gas company that hired Hunter Biden for its board, according to testimony by NSC Ukraine adviser Alexander Vindman.

July 25

3. The phone call

U.S. participants: (From left) President Trump and Kurt Volker, special envoy to Ukraine

Ukrainian participants: Zelensky and Yermak

The request: Trump asks for “a favor”: that Ukraine look into a discredited theory involving the 2016 campaign and the Bidens.

About 30 minutes before the call, Volker sent Yermak a text message and stressed the importance of Zelensky saying he will launch investigations. He explicitly tied the probes to a potential White House meeting for Zelensky. “Heard from White House-assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” Volker wrote.

When the two presidents spoke, Trump repeatedly noted how “good” the United States is to Ukraine. He asked Zelensky to open two investigations, according to a rough transcript released by the White House: one involving CrowdStrike, an Internet security company that probed the Democratic National Committee hack in 2016, and another involving the Bidens.

“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,” Trump said.

He later added: “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. … It sounds horrible to me.”

Trump and Giuliani have claimed that Joe Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to quash a probe into the owner of Burisma, an allegation that has been widely disputed by former U.S. officials and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists.

Zelensky promised that “we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation” and said he was very hopeful for a meeting with Trump.

Afterward, Yermak texted Volker: “Phone call went well. President Trump proposed to choose any convenient dates. President Zelenskiy chose 20,21,22 September for the White House Visit. Thank you again for your help!”

The following day, Trump sought information about the status of “the investigations” in a phone conversation with Sondland, according to public testimony by William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine.

Aug. 2

4. The Madrid meeting

U.S. participant: Giuliani (left)

Ukrainian participant: Yermak (right)

The request: Giuliani detailed the investigations he believed Ukraine should pursue as Yermak reiterated the Ukrainians’ plea for a meeting with Trump.

Giuliani met with Yermak in Madrid and spelled out two specific cases he believed Ukraine should pursue. One was a probe of a Ukrainian gas tycoon who had Biden’s son Hunter on his board. Another was an allegation that Democrats colluded with Ukraine to release information on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort during the 2016 election.

“Your country owes it to us and to your country to find out what really happened,” Giuliani said he told Yermak in an interview this fall with The Washington Post. Yermak, according to Giuliani, indicated that the Ukrainians were open to pursuing the investigations. The aide reiterated the Ukrainians’ plea for a meeting with Trump, a summit that would be an important signal to Russia of Washington’s support for Ukraine. “I talked to him about the whole package,” Giuliani said.

He said that Yermak was concerned Trump had not met with the Ukrainians and was “embarrassed” at the lack of a meeting — and wanted to make sure “nothing is wrong.”

Aug. 10-13

5. The text messages

U.S. participant: Volker (left)

Ukrainian participant: Yermak (right)

The request: In text messages, Volker and Yermak discussed having Ukrainians agree to make a statement announcing the investigations to get a date for a White House visit.

After the Madrid meeting, Yermak texted Volker that the Ukrainians would announce probes into Burisma, the company on whose board Hunter Biden served, as well as the 2016 election. “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations,” he wrote.

“Sounds great!” Volker responded.

But two days later, Yermak sent Volker a draft statement that referred only generally to “the problem of interference in the political processes of the United States,” text messages show. Volker and Sondland consulted with Giuliani on the statement. The president’s lawyer did not find it “convincing,” Volker recalled in his testimony.

“Mr. Giuliani was the one giving the input as to what the president wanted in the statement. He wanted Burisma and 2016 election mentioned in the statement. And I don’t believe the Ukrainians were prepared to do that,” Sondland said.

In a group text with Sondland, Volker sent new language to Yermak that included an “insert at the end for the 2 key items” — specific references to Burisma and the 2016 election.

But privately, Volker said, he warned Yermak that releasing the statement “was not a good idea” and could entangle the Ukrainians in U.S. domestic politics. “Because of conversations with Giuliani, I wanted to make sure that I was cautioning the Ukrainians, ‘Don’t get sucked in,’ ” Volker recounted.

Sept. 1

6. The Warsaw conversation

U.S. participant: Sondland (left)

Ukrainian participant: Yermak (right)

The request: That military aid would not resume until Zelensky promised to pursue the Burisma investigation.

At a meeting in Warsaw, Sondland told Yermak that delayed U.S. military aid would not arrive until Zelensky promised to pursue the Burisma investigation, according to testimony from several witnesses.

Sondland, who originally denied making the statement, said in an amended statement to the House that “I now recall speaking individually” with a Ukrainian official and in that conversation saying “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.”

Sondland said he “presumed” the two issues were connected “in the absence of any [other] credible explanation.” But he said Trump did not directly convey the message to him.

In later public testimony, Sondland said he told Yermak “that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

Photo credits: Lev Parnas by Peter Foley/Bloomberg News. Igor Fruman by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg News. Petro Poroshenko and Oleksandr Danyliuk by Efram Lukatsky/AP. Gordon Sondland by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images. President Trump and Rudolph W. Guiliani by Jabin Bostford/The Washington Post. Kurt Volker by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images. Volodymyr Zelensky by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images. Andriy Yermak by UNIAN. Editor: Matea Gold. Photo editor: Natalia Jiménez. Copy editor: Emily Morman. Animations: Junne Alcantara. Design: Brian Gross.

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