- In a Friday interview on “Fox & Friends,” President Donald Trump admitted to holding up military aid to Ukraine to pressure the government to investigate a baseless conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election interference and Democratic collusion.
- In other words, Trump acknowledged doing the very thing he has repeatedly denied and could be impeached for.
- The president started by referring to the broad outlines of the conspiracy, suggesting Ukraine is hiding a Democratic National Committee “server” that contains evidence of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 US election.
- After bringing up his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he said, crucially: “I mean, I asked it very point-blank, because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption. Why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption?”
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In a Friday interview on “Fox & Friends,” President Donald Trump admitted to holding up military aid to pressure Ukraine’s government to investigate a baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election.
In other words, he acknowledged doing the very thing he could be impeached for and has repeatedly denied.
Trump referred to the conspiracy theory that Ukraine is hiding a mysterious Democratic National Committee “server” that contains incriminating evidence of Ukrainian interference and Democratic collusion. There is no evidence supporting this conspiracy theory – the former National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified this week that it was part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
“They have the server, right, from the DNC, Democratic National Committee,” Trump said. “The FBI went in and they told them, get out of here, we’re not giving it to you. They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a country – which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. And I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI’s never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”
The cohost Steve Doocy, appearing to anticipate the path Trump was going down, asked incredulously: “Are you sure they did that? Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?”
“Well, that’s what the word is. That’s what I asked, actually, in my phone call,” he said, referring to his July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that’s the focus of the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
Then, critically, the president added: “I mean, I asked it very point-blank, because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption. Why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption?”
In less than a minute, Trump appeared to, for the first time, link the 2016 conspiracy theory to the vague “corruption” concern his allies have cited as rationale for his withholding the critical military aid to Ukraine.
What Trump is being investigated for
This acknowledgment gets to the crux of the impeachment inquiry, which is focused on whether Trump abused his power by using his public office for private gain.
At the centre of the inquiry is the July 25 phone call in which Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter over Hunter’s involvement with the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings. Trump also asked Zelensky to look into the conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Since details of the call emerged in a whistleblower complaint, over a dozen witnesses have testified in the impeachment inquiry, saying the call was just one data point in a months-long campaign by Trump and his allies to strongarm Ukraine into publicly committing to launching the investigations Trump wanted in exchange for vital military aid and a White House meeting.
The campaign was spearheaded by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has made statements about his efforts for months.
Several career national-security and foreign-service officers have testified that this “irregular” channel of Ukraine policy also consisted of others, including:
- Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the European Union.
- Kurt Volker, the US’s former special representative to Ukraine.
- Rick Perry, the outgoing energy secretary.
- Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
Sondland, who testified in an open hearing on Wednesday, said “everyone,” including Pompeo, the former national security adviser John Bolton, and the president himself, was “in on it.” Sondland added that he worked with Giuliani on the matter “at the express direction” of Trump.
A cascade of witnesses destroyed Trump’s defences one by one
Trump’s allies have trotted out a slew of defences in the snowballing inquiry, but they have grown weaker in the face of overwhelming testimony from nonpartisan officials, many of whom spoke in defiance of the White House’s direct orders.
The president has relied primarily on two defences to shield himself:
His interest in launching the investigations was legitimate because he wants to eradicate corruption.
- A transcript of his first phone call with Zelensky, in April, shortly after Zelensky won the election, undercuts this point because Trump made no mention of corruption. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, testified this week that he was concerned because the president raised none of the foreign-policy talking points that had been prepared for him in either call.
- And Sondland testified that Trump just wanted Zelensky to announce the investigations: “He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”
Ukraine didn’t know about the freeze in security assistance at the time of the July 25 call, so there was no way Zelensky could have felt pressured by Trump.
- Trump’s allies have leaned hard on this talking point, saying that the hold was first publicly reported by Politico in late August, more than a month after the call.
- But Laura Cooper, a deputy secretary at the Pentagon, blew up that defence this week when she testified that there were three separate inquiries about the hold-up – two from Ukrainian officials and one from Congress – on the day of the July 25 call.
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