This misstates the facts. First, the president did not just withhold aid; he refused to schedule the coveted Oval Office visit he had promised Zelensky — and the Ukrainians were quite aware of and antsy about that. Second, one must suspend disbelief to think, just because the hold on the aid was not reported (by Politico) until August 29, that the Ukrainians did not notice the expected aid hadn’t been transferred while they were being pushed on the investigations. (Ukraine’s economy is only about the size of Arkansas’s; a $400 million shortfall would not go unnoticed.) Third, Taylor says the Ukrainians undoubtedly knew about the hold on the funding by August 29; it was not lifted until nearly two weeks later. In the interim, Sondland is said to have told the Ukrainians there would be a “stalemate” if they did not accede. I wouldn’t exactly say “stalemate” is Ukrainian for “quid pro quo,” but you get the point.
More significantly, the president’s advocates misperceive the nature of the House Democrats’ inquiry. This is not a bribery prosecution in a judicial court. This is impeachment, in which there is no burden to prove a quid pro quo beyond a reasonable doubt. The House is not required to establish a felony offense, such as extortion or bribery (an element of which is a corrupt quid pro quo). In theory, House Democrats could vote an article of impeachment alleging that the president abused power by leveraging his control of foreign relations for partisan political purposes — viz., to induce the Ukrainians to investigate a potential 2020 rival. Impeachment does not require proving a penal offense up to courtroom standards. It is a political act, not a legal one: the stripping of authority by the legislature, not the establishment of a crime in court.
The president’s defense here is not that there was no quid pro quo. It is that the quid pro quo does not come close to an impeachable offense. I will address why in part two of this series.