WSJ exclusive: Trump told Ukrainian president "about eight times" in phone call to reopen Biden investigation; Update: Release the transcript, says Biden

WSJ exclusive: Trump told Ukrainian president "about eight times" in phone call to reopen Biden investigation; Update: Release the transcript, says Biden

Of course he did. The man has said openly on national television that he’d “probably” accept dirt on a political rival from foreign sources. He knew the Ukrainians had an investigation on the backburner that might eventually reach Hunter Biden and, more importantly, efforts by Joe Biden to pressure Ukraine into removing the prosecutor in charge. No personal ethic was going to restrain him from pursuing it, especially if he had Biden’s actions to cite as precedent if he was caught.

The surprise in this story is that he supposedly didn’t threaten to withhold the $250 million in military aid that Ukraine had been promised if President Zelensky refused to reopen the Biden probe, at least as far as the Journal’s sources know. But of course Zelensky knew that that money hadn’t been approved yet by the White House when he and Trump had their phone call. And Trump knew that he knew. If you’re waiting on a life-and-death loan from the bank and the head of the bank calls you up asking for a personal favor, does he need to literally say the words “do it or you won’t get your loan” for you to understand the consequences if you decline?

I can’t believe how much alcohol I’m going to need to consume to cope with a 13-month debate about whether an implicit demand for a quid pro quo is meaningfully different from an explicit one.

President Trump in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ’s son, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, on a probe, according to people familiar with the matter.

“He told him that he should work with [Mr. Giuliani] on Biden, and that people in Washington wanted to know” whether allegations were true or not, one of the people said. Mr. Trump didn’t mention a provision of foreign aid to Ukraine on the call, said this person, who didn’t believe Mr. Trump offered the Ukrainian president any quid-pro-quo for his cooperation on an investigation…

The August meeting [between Giuliani and a Ukrainian official] came weeks before the Trump administration began reviewing the status of $250 million in foreign aid to Ukraine, which the administration released earlier this month. Mr. Giuliani said he wasn’t aware of the issue with the funds to Ukraine at the time of the meeting.

An interesting theory:

The Journal story *is* favorable to the White House in that it claims there was no explicit demand for a quid pro quo. Maybe it’s a limited hangout, with Team Trump omitting some key details of the conversation but admitting that the president pressured Zelensky on Biden because they assume that detail is destined to come out somehow anyway. Remember that the reporting this week has claimed that there was a “promise” of some sort made by Trump to an unnamed foreign leader. There’s nothing about that in this new Journal piece. How to square the two?

What if Trump said, “Zelensky, you really should investigate Biden,” and then later in their chat, after Zelensky sounded receptive about Biden, Trump had also said, “I promise, you’ll get your military aid”? There’s no explicit quid pro quo there, i.e. “do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” But it would have been clear to both parties what was being discussed.

Pelosi is talking tough this afternoon, but whatever. No one takes her seriously anymore on oversight given her adamant resistance to impeachment.

Hillary’s doing her part to goose the story too:

The president wasn’t the only candidate to receive help from a foreign power in 2016. And he didn’t commission a dossier on his opponent consisting of innuendo from foreign sources. But I digress.

Most interesting of all among the Democratic reactions is that of Team Biden, which is curiously quiet about this alleged U.S./Ukraine conspiracy to wreck his presidential chances:

Maybe Biden’s doing what he can to downplay this since he’s worried what reporters will find once they start sniffing around his communications as VP with Ukraine. Or, more charitably, maybe he senses that nothing good can come from added media attention to this subject no matter how it shakes out. Even if his interest in pressuring Ukraine several years ago was an earnest anti-corruption pitch, not a favor he did for his son, Warren would be a fool not to try to make hay of it. She doesn’t even need to claim that she believes Biden was corrupt. She can make an electability argument instead: “I don’t think you were behaving unethically, Joe, but Republicans are going to blast you with this every day for the next year if you’re the nominee. By the time they’re done, the election will be a coin flip. We need a candidate who doesn’t have this baggage.” What will swing voters say to that?

Update: A good question. If this is all just hardball diplomacy, why is the president’s personal lawyer involved?

Update: Biden can’t duck it anymore.

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David Strom 6:01 AM on June 06, 2023