There’s a striking simplicity to the scandal that will almost certainly lead to Donald Trump’s impeachment: he used his office to try to coerce a foreign government into helping his re-election campaign. The evidence is unambiguous. More information continues to come to light, but few fair-minded observers believe the president’s guilt is in doubt.
There’s been no explicit need for Trump’s detractors to prove that his scheme included a quid pro quo – the United States would trade something of value to a foreign country in exchange for its participation in the Republican’s gambit – since Trump’s effort was itself scandalous.
But as of this morning, the quid pro quo has nevertheless been established, thanks to a series of text messages that were released overnight. NBC News reported this morning:
Text messages given to Congress show U.S. ambassadors working to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents and explicitly linking the inquiry to whether Ukraine’s president would be granted an official White House visit.
The two ambassadors, both Trump picks, went so far as to draft language for what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy should say, the texts indicate. The messages, released Thursday by House Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry, show the ambassadors coordinating with both Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a top Zelenskiy aide.
One text shows Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, asking, “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Apparently reluctant to acknowledge criminal wrongdoing in print, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland replied, “Call me.”
In a subsequent message, Taylor added, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Just as astonishing was a message Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, sent to a Zelenskiy adviser shortly before the now-infamous Trump/Zelenskiy phone call. The message was clear about the White House’s political expectations, and how a presidential meeting was contingent on the Ukrainian president’s cooperation with the larger scheme.
“Heard from White House,” Volker wrote, “assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee published the texts online here (pdf).
A Washington Post analysis added that the newly released messages not only document the quid-pro-quo element of the scandal, they also offer “a strong suggestion that military aid was used as leverage – and hints at an attempt to hide that.”
For two weeks, Trump’s Republican allies have argued that in order for this to be a real scandal, it would have to include a quid pro quo. That posture has long been wrong: the effort to coerce Ukraine was itself indefensible.
But what will these same GOP voices say now that the evidence has taken the scandal to the next level, meeting the one standard Republicans said had to be met?