Does a newly unearthed document radically change the circumstances of Donald Trump’s call to Volodymyr Zelensky? John Solomon, who recently joined Fox News as a contributor, told Sean Hannity last night that the document undermines basis for the current impeachment probe of Trump in Ukraine-Gate. Ukraine had already re-opened a probe of Burisma, Hunter Biden’s employer, months earlier, and the US government knew it. Therefore, Solomon tells Hannity, there was no need for a quid pro quo and the decision to hold up US aid could have had nothing to do with it.
Case closed? Not exactly:
A newly unearthed document shows that Ukrainian officials had opened a new probe into the firm linked to Hunter Biden months before President Trump’s phone call with that country’s leader, Fox News contributor John Solomon reported late Tuesday.
Solomon said Tuesday on “Hannity” that the U.S. government knew Ukraine was planning to look again into activities at Burisma Holdings, an energy company that employed then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son as a member of its board of directors, early this year. The report is noteworthy because President Trump has been accused by Democrats of threatening in July to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine unless its new president pursued an investigation into the company and the younger Biden’s role there.
“The U.S. government had open-source intelligence and was aware as early as February of 2019 that the Ukrainian government was planning to reopen the Burisma investigation,” he claimed. “This is long before the president ever imagined having a call with President Zelensky,” he added, noting Petro Poroshenko was still Ukraine’s president at that time.
“This is a significant shift in the factual timeline.”
That’s not quite true. The problem for this explanation, and for Trump in the Zelensky call, is that we already know Poroshenko had moved to reopen the Burisma probe. It wasn’t a secret at all; the New York Times reported it in May, two months after the Poroshenko government had given it the green light and two months before the call with Zelensky. The circumstances of that decision appeared a little suspect to the NYT at the time:
The decision to reopen the investigation into Burisma was made in March by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general, who had cleared Hunter Biden’s employer more than two years ago. The announcement came in the midst of Ukraine’s contentious presidential election, and was seen in some quarters as an effort by the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, to curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko.
Unfortunately for Poroshenko, he lost the election to Zelensky. The new president then decided to change prosecutors, which could have shut down the Burisma probe, as the Times also reported two months before the Trump-Zelensky call:
Mr. Poroshenko lost his re-election bid in a landslide last month. While the incoming president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has said he will replace Mr. Lutsenko as prosecutor general, Mr. Zelensky has not said whether the prosecutors he appoints will be asked to continue the investigation.
In other words, this new document doesn’t actually shift the factual timeline at all. Everyone knew by May that the previous Ukrainian administration had been prepared to reinvestigate Burisma and (perhaps) by extension the Bidens. And then everyone knew at the same time that Zelensky was changing prosecutorial priorities, and that the Burisma probe might get dumped once again. The omission of the February/March intel on the Poroshenko government’s actions from the whistleblower complaint doesn’t matter because (a) it had been mooted by the Ukrainian election and (b) everyone already knew it. The incentive for Trump to get Zelensky to continue the Burisma probe still existed at the time of the call, and perhaps was stronger than in March when Poroshenko had already acquiesced to Trump.
That doesn’t mean that Trump demanded a quid pro quo from Zelensky, and the transcript of the call doesn’t support that contention anyway. It also doesn’t negate the evidence of conflicts of interest in Joe Biden’s December 2015 use of aid funding to intervene in Ukraine’s corruption investigations, either. Solomon’s find changes nothing about those issues, but it also changes nothing about the circumstances that were in place in July 2019 either. If Trump or others are looking for an exonerating smoking gun, they’ll have to keep looking.