Giuliani: I don't think Trump threatened Ukraine's president over the Biden probe but I'm not 100% sure

Giuliani: I don't think Trump threatened Ukraine's president over the Biden probe but I'm not 100% sure

This reminds me of the time Rudy blurted out on Hannity’s show that Trump had in fact reimbursed Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Oh, and the time he admitted on George Stephanopoulos’s show that, sure, it’s possible that Cohen might have paid hush money to other former Trump mistresses if circumstances required it.

Was that Rudy being strategic, revealing a bit damning information as if it’s no big deal in the expectation that the info would leak eventually anyway?

Or was that Rudy being Rudy, one of the most erratic and undisciplined guests on all of cable news? His loose lips in front of the camera have reportedly earned the president’s anger before, remember.

The line from Trump and his aides thus far has been that he did indeed raise the Biden investigation with Ukraine’s president on July 25 but that he never threatened to withhold the $250 million in military aid that had been pledged to Ukraine. Right, said Rudy to Maria Bartiromo earlier today, Trump never threatened that. One hundred percent certainty, Bartiromo replied? Welllllll, said Rudy…

Some critics insist that Trump should be impeached for what he said to Zelensky if he never brought up the military aid. You don’t need to reach the question of whether extortion occurred, they maintain; as soon as Trump tried to enlist a foreign government into making trouble for his probable opponent in next year’s election, that was impeachment-worthy.

Okay, but extortion on top of that would make the abuse of power that much more vivid and objectionable. And Trump and Rudy know it, which is why they’re so keen to emphasize that no threat was made. I think they’re probably telling the truth too, since there was no need for Trump to explicitly threaten Zelensky. It would have been clear enough to the Ukrainian after the aid had been delayed what the likely consequences would be if he flatly refused Trump’s request on Biden. Same goes for Ukraine’s foreign minister, who delivered a speech this weekend in which claiming there was no pressure from Trump or his administration related to the military aid. Put yourself in his shoes: His country will be dealing with the Trump White House for another 14 months at a minimum and possibly until early 2025. They know that Trump wants better relations with Russia and that they’re a prime obstacle standing in his way. If Trump did pressure Zelensky, would the minister dare admit it and risk making an embittered enemy of the president? How might Russia react if American patronage of Ukraine were suddenly completely cut off?

The stakes in alienating the U.S. government don’t need to be spelled out to the Ukrainians. Even if there were no military aid involved in this, there’d still be loads of “pressure” to comply with Trump’s request.

The X factor in the Ukraine matter is whether the Bidens really are guilty of impropriety or not. Right, right, two wrongs don’t make a right, but Trump’s defense that he was only interested in getting Ukraine to fight corruption will be more persuasive to Americans the more evidence there is that the Bidens really were corrupt. There’s certainly an appearance of impropriety: What the hell was Hunter Biden doing on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, and why would Joe Biden agree to be a liaison to the Ukrainian government on the subject of corruption knowing that his son had business interests there? It looks terrible. As to whether there was actual corruption, with Biden pressuring the Ukrainians not to investigate his son’s company, that’s harder to answer. Starting with the fact that there’s no one left who’s sufficiently trusted by both sides to answer it definitively:

It’s unimaginable that a partisan right-wing outlet would investigate and conclude that Biden’s intentions were pure, but it’s also unimaginable that big media would put the brakes on a Democratic impeachment train that’s just about to reach runaway speed over this scandal by pronouncing Biden guilty of corrupt interference in the Ukrainian justice process. Even if they did, lefties would retort that Biden’s misdeeds are no excuse for Trump’s abuse of power, merely a reason to disqualify Biden in the Democratic primary. But “Biden guilty!” would be a bad headline for Dems when they’re trying to convince people that Trump is the guilty one.

Ed did a nice job this morning making the case that there’s a conflict of interest and that Joe Biden should have been more sensitive to it. But as to the big question of whether Biden really was trying to get the Ukrainians to back off of his son’s business, Burisma Holdings, that’s dicier. By the time Joe started twisting Ukraine’s arm to fire the lead prosecutor, the probe into Burisma had already gone dormant. People who follow Ukrainian politics insist that the prosecutor really was corrupt, too. In other words, this wasn’t a case of Joe leaping into the political fray in Ukraine to block an investigation by an idealistic D.A. that was on the brink of exposing Hunter Biden’s corruption. This was Biden leaning on Ukraine to fire a guy who needed firing and who had declined to aggressively pursue Burisma, for whatever reason.

But maybe there’s more to it? Which brings us back to Erickson’s point: Whom do you trust to find out?

Here’s Trump this afternoon at the UN addressing the Ukraine matter briefly — but significantly, for two reasons. One: He himself connects U.S. aid to Ukraine to his conversation with Zelensky. Why would we give money to a country that’s not fighting corruption, he wonders? But the whole point Giuliani’s been trying to make is that money, i.e. the $250 million, wasn’t part of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president. Now here’s Trump hinting that it was part of his calculation in raising the Biden matter. Two: How often does Trump press foreign leaders on the subject of domestic corruption? Has he ever once brought up Russia’s kleptocracy in his chats with Putin? Has he brought up corruption in conversations with the leaders of other U.S. client states, like Saudi Arabia or Egypt? This should be an easy question for the White House to answer. Go through the transcripts of his calls with heads of state and count up how many times he’s confronted them about their corrupt administration of justice back home. If he really is bringing it up often with foreign officials then his conversation with Zelensky will look more innocent. If the only time he’s ever brought it up is in his conversation with Zelensky then that’s strong evidence that it’s not corruption that Trump cares about, it’s making trouble for Joe Biden specifically.

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