Did Donald Trump demand a quid pro quo for US aid by intimidating the new Ukrainian president into digging up dirt on Hunter Biden? Democrats in the House are convinced the answer is yes, but Volodymyr Zelensky says no. In a lengthy press avail earlier in Kyiv, Zelensky told reporters that his July 25 conversation with Trump was “not corruption, it was just a call.” Zelensky also helpfully added that no extortion took place over either US aid or a White House visit, the BBC reports:
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there was “no blackmail” in a phone call with Donald Trump that is at the heart of a possible attempt to remove the US president from office.
“This is not corruption, it was just a call,” Mr Zelensky said on Thursday. …
Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Kiev on Thursday, Mr Zelensky said of his 25 July call with Mr Trump: “There was no blackmail. It was not the subject of our conversation.”
He said the purpose of the conversation was to arrange a meeting with Trump, and there were no “conditions” from the US side.
The Associated Press offered a much more editorialized version of Zelensky’s remarks. After first noting that the Ukrainian president is “trying to save his reputation” and describing him as “embarrassed … eager to please Trump,” they get around to reporting that Zelensky considers the US transcript of the call accurate, and that he didn’t feel pressured at all on the call:
He said he “didn’t even check” whether the Ukrainian transcript of the July call is the same as that of the White House, but says “I think they match.” …
Zelenskiy said the call “wasn’t linked to weapons or the story with (Ukrainian gas company) Burisma,” where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
Zelensky didn’t appear to be too uptight in ABC’s portion of the “media marathon,” as the Ukrainians called it. Despite considerable pressure from reporter Tom Llamas, Zelensky refused to call Trump’s mention of Biden in the call “corrupt,” and insisted that his administration wants to deal with all corruption equally:
Donald Trump made sure to mark the occasion:
Will this end the House Democrats’ impeachment push? Not on your life, as Trump himself acknowledges, but it might dent its credibility a bit. We now have both the transcript and Zelensky’s public corroboration of it on record, plus Zelensky’s testimony to the media about it. No doubt some self-interest is involved in Zelensky’s calculation, but it’s tough to build a case of quid pro quo and corruption when the two players in the alleged act both say nothing of the sort occurred — and the record backs that up.
Meanwhile, RealClearInvestigations’ Eric Felten picks up on a leak in Ukraine over a very different allegation of pressure and quid pro quo involving a US administration. A Ukrainian newspaper somehow magically got hold of some notes from Rudy Giuliani’s private investigation, and voila!
The five pages of typewritten, printed-out notes – not transcripts –together with the IG’s cover letter to lawmakers, were posted this week on a Ukrainian website, The Babel. They appear to memorialize two conversations: one on Jan. 23, when Giuliani spoke by phone with the former general prosecutor of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin; the other is from two days later, when Shokin’s successor, then-General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, met Giuliani in New York.
In addition to the fired Shokin’s claim that President Poroshenko warned him not to investigate Burisma because it was not in the Bidens’ interest, the notes say, the prosecutor also said he “was warned to stop” by the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt. …
Recounting Shokin’s version of events, the notes say he “was called into Mr. Poroshenko’s office and told that the investigation into Burisma and the Managing Director where Hunter Biden is on the board, has caused Joe Biden to hold up one billion dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine.” Poroshenko later told Shokin that “he had to be fired as the aid to the Ukraine was being withheld by Joe Biden,” the Giuliani interview notes say.
That’s certainly, um, helpful. Giuliani has confirmed the authenticity of his notes, and why not? It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he leaked them himself, given how helpful it is to his narrative. We do know, though, that the latter part of this does relate to actual events, because Joe Biden himself was helpful enough to brag about holding up a billion dollars in US aid to get Shokin fired.
Since then, Biden has insisted that Shokin wasn’t being aggressive enough about Burisma and other oligarch-controlled entities in Ukraine, and accuses everyone who looks askance at the late-2015 quid pro quo of misreading Shokin’s own corruption. Shokin obviously has his reasons for disputing that, and Giuliani has his reasons to make sure Shokin’s story gets out.
Is it true? It’s tough to say without a truly independent investigation, but Hunter’s connection to Burisma and those probes created a clear conflict of interest for Biden as Vice President. At the very least under these circumstances, Poroshenko could be forgiven a mistaken conclusion that Biden was acting to protect his son, if in fact it was a mistaken conclusion. That conflict of interest is why Biden’s earning the scrutiny that’s coming, about which we’ll have more shortly.