Last week, as Republicans scrambled to defend the president against the evidence of his plot to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens in exchange for $391 million in military aid, they accidentally sent their talking points to Democrats in the Senate and House. (Who among us has never made an email error? I once cc’d an entire company saying I like jazz.) One of the talking points stated: “Let’s be clear, there was no quid pro quo for Ukraine to get U.S. aid in exchange for looking into Biden or his son.”
Late on Thursday, that argument collapsed when leaders of the House impeachment inquiry sent a public letter to House lawmakers, including 22 pages of text messages that former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker provided in his House testimony — messages that he sent to European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland, Ukrainian administration staff, and former Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor.
Three texts are worth highlighting, as they immediately shatter the notion that the administration did not engage in a quid pro quo when they withheld aid in order to influence Ukraine into investigating a political rival. On July 25, before Trump’s call to Zelensky, Volker wrote to a top aide of the Ukrainian administration that he had “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.”
By September 1, the you-investigate, we-provide-aid dynamic was established, as is apparent by Taylor’s text to Sonland conveniently laying out the exchange Trump has been pining for.
Poor Gordon Sondland — all he wanted to do was to commit impeachable offenses, but over the phone. You can almost feel his facepalm in the acerbic “call me” reply to Taylor. In another text from September 9, he outlines the plot even more explicitly: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland did his best to sneak in a whiff of plausible deniability: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Good save.