If so, according to Byron York’s sources, it didn’t work. House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff pressed Ukraine ‘Amigo’ Kurt Volker to admit knowledge of an explicit quid pro quo demand from Donald Trump for dirt on the Bidens in exchange for suspended military aid. The State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine insisted that it didn’t happen, in part because the Ukrainians didn’t know until later that the aid had been suspended at all (via Jeff Dunetz):
“[The Ukrainians] didn’t want to be drawn into investigating a Democratic candidate for president, which would mean only peril for Ukraine, is that fair to say?” Schiff asked Volker.
“That may be true,” Volker said. “That may be true. They didn’t express that to me, and, of course, I didn’t know that was the context at the time.” (Volker has said he did not know that Trump had mentioned the Bidens on the July 25 call with Zelensky until the rough transcript of the call was released on Sept. 25.)
“Part of the other context is vital military support is being withheld from the Ukraine during this period, right?” Schiff asked.
“That was not part of the context at the time,” Volker said. “At least to my knowledge, they [Ukrainian leaders] were not aware of that.”
This did not sit well with Schiff, who wanted to connect dots through Volker. If the Ukrainians didn’t know that the aid had been withheld, of course, then it’s impossible for it to have been used in a quid pro quo by Trump, especially in the Zelensky phone call. That puts a serious dent in the impeachment hypothesis under which House Democrats have been operating since the exposure of the whistleblower complaint, and it leaves Schiff in particular out on a very shaky limb, having curated the complaint in the first place.
At one point, an exasperated Schiff remarked at Volker, “you’re making this much more complicated than it has to be.” That might be a case of projection, considering the box in which Schiff found himself in this exchange.
Making the problem worse, Volker testified that the idea of pursuing the Bidens had been dropped by both sides by the time the Ukrainians read that the aid had been held up. Schiff argued that the timing didn’t matter, but Volker said that the context of the US-Ukrainian relationship had shifted fundamentally by that time:
“Congressman, this is why I’m trying to say the context is different, because at the time they learned that, if we assume it’s Aug. 29, they had just had a visit from the national security adviser, John Bolton. That’s a high-level meeting already. He was recommending and working on scheduling the visit of President Zelensky to Washington. We were also working on a bilateral meeting to take place in Warsaw on the margins of a commemoration on the beginning of World War II. And in that context, I think the Ukrainians felt like things are going the right direction, and they had not done anything on — they had not done anything on an investigation, they had not done anything on a statement, and things were ramping up in terms of their engagement with the administration. So I think they were actually feeling pretty good then.”
To be fair, Schiff’s point is still hypothetically valid. If the Ukrainians thought things were going well, the news that the aid had been suspended might have been rather shocking. At that point, might they not have thought that reopening the Burisma probe would help get the aid unstuck? Republican Rep. Scott Perry revisited this with Volker, who said no one in Ukraine connected one to the other — and that he would have known if they did:
“In your conversation with Rep. Schiff, he kind of implied and wanted you to intimate that there was an agreement based on that conversation that: If you do the investigation, then you can have a meeting [with Trump] and maybe we’ll consider this military aid. If that were the case from the call, do you feel, because they had some trust in you, that they would have come to you and said, ‘Hey how do we handle this? Is this what the President of the United States is asking?’ Would they confide — would they ask you that?”
“Yes,” said Volker. “They would have asked me exactly that, you know. How do we handle this?”
Before calling this path to a quid pro quo entirely closed, though, remember that Volker made a surprise appearance yesterday while Michael McKinley testified in order to review his own testimony. That sometimes happens when witnesses need to correct their testimony in order to avoid perjury charges, although there may be other reasons to do it as well. If Volker does change this testimony, then perhaps Schiff might find some bread crumbs through Volker to the elusive QPQ. If it stands as York presents it, though, Schiff’s still way out on that limb.
Speaking of McKinley, it doesn’t sound like Schiff got much there either. The 37-year State veteran decried the Trump administration’s politicization of the department but apparently had little to do with Ukraine. He resigned because Pompeo refused to defend Marie Yovanovitch, but all he knew about Ukraine and quid pro quos is what he’s read in the paper:
Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told House impeachment investigators Wednesday that he quit his job last week out of concern about the mistreatment of career U.S. diplomats and the alarming allegations related to efforts to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating President Trump’s political rivals.
“I was disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents,” McKinley said, according to portions of his testimony obtained by The Washington Post. “I was convinced that this would also have a serious impact on Foreign Service morale and the integrity of our work overseas.” …
McKinley came to Capitol Hill with an intimate understanding of how Pompeo wielded power in the highest echelons of the State Department, but he said he was not particularly involved in Ukraine-related issues.
Democrats’ decision to hold these hearings behind closed doors is becoming more clear, Brit Hume snarked last night:
Read this and you may have an inkling why Schiff & Pelosi want these interviews to be held behind closed doors. https://t.co/bPBIyM0wys
— Brit Hume (@brithume) October 17, 2019
Yeah, well, don’t get cocky. Still, Schiff’s looking more and more like a buffoon, and Nancy Pelosi may need to rethink her strategy about getting a full House vote. She needs to peel Schiff and Jerrold Nadler away from the impeachment effort and find a more credible manager who won’t get laughed out of a Republican-controlled Senate. Elijah Cummings might have been a good choice, which makes his passing last night even more of a blow to Pelosi. Eliot Engel at Foreign Affairs might be the best option she has left.