The American people certainly have reason for confusion over Ukraine-Gate. It’s a complicated mess of a story made even worse by politicians getting out ahead of their skis to declare conviction or vindication, and even worse yet by news outlets seemingly determined to screw up the story. Over the past week, the goalposts have shifted so often that the Ukraine-Gate story resembles the late Al Davis’ long-range business plans.
The media and some Democrats spent nearly a week breathlessly reporting that Donald Trump demanded explicit quid pro quos several times in in conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. After the White House released the transcript, it became clear that there were no explicit quid pro quos in the conversation (although there was plenty to criticize otherwise). Still, CNN tried to construct one by using an ellipsis that removed more than 500 words between Trump saying “I would like you to do us a favor” and the first mention of the Bidens:
It wasn’t just CNN wielding ellipses either, Alex Griswold discovered:
As anyone who read the widely available transcript knows, the “favor” comment referred to Ukraine’s cooperation in an investigation into the Russiagate investigation. That might not have been a very smart thing to ask as a “favor” in the middle of Zelensky’s discussion about defense needs either, but it had nothing to do with the allegation that Trump demanded a quid pro quo for aid by digging up dirt on the Bidens.
Since the media couldn’t find an explicit quid pro quo in the transcript, they began moving goalposts to produce one elsewhere. ABC News was certain they’d found it with a former Zelensky aide named Serhiy Leshchenko, who asserted that the real quid pro quo was a demand to discuss the Bidens as a prerequisite for Trump’s congratulatory call:
When Ukrainians voted to elect comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy as their next president in the spring of 2019, the fledgling administration was eager to coordinate a phone call with Kyiv’s most important benefactor — the United States, according to a former adviser to Zelenskiy.
But after weeks of discussions with American officials, Ukrainian officials came to recognize a precondition to any executive correspondence, the former adviser said.
“It was clear that [President Donald] Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case,” said Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption advocate and former member of Ukraine’s Parliament, who had been a former adviser to Zelenskiy but has recently been distanced from the administration. “This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.”
When ABC first ran this story, they identified Leschenko as a current adviser. That turned out to be wrong, as other reporters quickly noted; Zelensky had let Leschenko go well before the July 25th call in question. That prompted this major correction from ABC:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Serhiy Leshchenko as a current advisor to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Leshchenko advised Zelenskiy’s transition team following his election in April but has since been distanced by the administration. He is no longer advising Zelenskiy.
Er … how difficult would it have been to verify that before running the story in the first place? About as difficult as it would have been to ask Leshchenko where he heard this. Via Twitchy, both the BBC and Politico’s European beat reporters found out that the ABC story was nonsense:
Setting record straight: @Leshchenkos confirmed to me what those of us in Kyiv already knew—he is NOT currently an advisor to Ukraine's Zelenskiy & wasn't at time of July 25 call. He said he DID NOT tell ABC insistence for leaders to discuss Biden probe was precondition for call. https://t.co/fNh5sMYj9i
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) September 26, 2019
Leshchenko is no longer a Zelensky adviser or Ukrainian official. Rudy Giuliani forced him out of the presidents inner circle.
I spoke to him yesterday – he said something similar re “quid pro quo” but said he’d learnt it only from media reports. https://t.co/N6rzVPjmRX
— Jonah Fisher (@JonahFisherBBC) September 26, 2019
Leshchenko heard it from media reports, and the media reported what Leshchenko heard from the media. Maybe they should just get a room and leave the rest of us out of it.
It’s still possible that Trump committed some violation worthy of impeachment in regard to Ukraine. The Senate and House will take a serious look at the whistleblower complaint to see whether it has any merit and whether the facts line up with it. Until it gets made public, however, I would advise everyone to keep an open mind and not trust any unsourced or anonymously sourced analyses of what it says or means, not by partisans in Congress from either party, and certainly not from the American media. They are doing not just a terrible job but a dishonest job in covering Ukraine-Gate and simply can’t be trusted to tell the truth in this case. Each morning I wake up and wonder, “Where will the goalposts be today?”