Another Trump defense in the Ukraine scandal bites the dust

Updated

Running out of options, Donald Trump touted one of his newer talking points this morning, publishing a tweet that Ukraine didn’t know that the White House was withholding military aid. As the president sees it, this detail is key because, in his mind, it knocks down the quid-pro-quo allegation.

As the story goes, in order for there to be extortion, one of the parties involved needs to know it’s being extorted. If Ukraine didn’t realize Trump had blocked aid, then there was no way for the Republican to have leverage over his counterpart in Kyiv.

Among the problems with this argument is that it appears to be completely wrong. The New York Times reported this morning:

[I]n fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

The problem was not a bureaucratic glitch, the Ukrainians were told then. To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the interviews and records.

The timing of the communications about the issue, which have not previously been reported, shows that Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than United States and Ukrainian officials had acknowledged. And it means that the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations being sought by Mr. Trump.

This reporting reinforces what the other evidence has already suggested. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted this morning, acting U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor testified yesterday on U.S. officials telling the Ukrainian government that “the security assistance money would not come until Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”

What’s more, the Wall Street Journal reported last month that Ukrainian officials “expressed concern to U.S. senators that the [military] aid had been held up as a penalty for resisting that pressure” to investigate Joe Biden.

All of which suggests Ukraine was, in fact, well aware of the circumstances as Trump’s scheme unfolded.

I’m trying to think of a Republican argument that’s come up over the last month, intended to defend the White House, that’s stood up to scrutiny. Honestly, nothing comes to mind.