Despite President Trump’s all-cap-Sharpie note to himself last week that there was “no quid pro quo,” a New York Times report published on Tuesday polished up the preponderance of evidence arguing otherwise. In late August, the White House counsel’s office informed the president of the whistle-blower’s report that Trump withheld aid in exchange for politically motivated investigations in Ukraine. The lawyers brought the issue to Trump because they were determining if they legally had to inform Congress of the complaint.
This new timeline suggests that Trump was aware that he had been accused of abusing his executive power when the White House eventually released the aid to Ukraine in September. It also paints his I’m-not-a-crook correspondence with E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland in a less honorable light. Sondland testified that on September 9, Trump told him “I want no quid pro quo.” That Trump was aware that an intelligence officer had accused him of such behavior — after spending a summer “enthusiastically” pressuring Ukraine to conduct investigations that would aid his reelection — suggests that the conversation with Sondland, who testified that there was a quid pro quo, was meant more as a bailout plan than as an honest confession to a E.U. ambassador in over his head. And as Daily Kos points out, there’s a smaller concern related to the choice of language from the president with a limited vocabulary: “Trump using such precise language without being prompted was always a question mark because he clearly doesn’t bat around Latin phrases very often.”
Shortly after learning of the whistle-blower complaint, Trump had a similar conversation with Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who asked the president if the withheld aid to Ukraine was connected to something he wanted done in Ukraine. “No way,” Johnson recalled Trump saying. “I would never do that. Who told you that?”
While the Times report suggests that Trump’s question was asked in bad faith, it could have more serious repercussions as Democrats plan to gather articles of impeachment. As former Southern District of New York prosecutor Mimi Rocah points out: “This is what prosecutors call consciousness of guilt. It’s very strong evidence that when he froze the money it was for an illicit purpose. Otherwise, why not keep it frozen and explain it was all on the up and up to fight ‘corruption?’”