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Is Trump shaking down Ukraine for 2020 election assistance?

Trump is effectively telling Ukraine, "It's a nice aid package we have here, which you need for security reasons. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

After Vladimir Putin's Russian government invaded Ukraine in 2014, the United States took a series of specific steps. We established a new defense initiative for parts of Europe; we kicked Russia out of the G-8; and we imposed harsh new economic sanctions on Moscow.

After Donald Trump became president, he defunded the defense initiative (raiding the budget to pay for border barriers), called for Russia's re-entry into what is now the G-7, and held off on implementing Russian sanctions.

But as Rachel explained on the show last week, there's something else the United States did after Russia invaded one of its neighbors: we increased our military aid to Ukraine. Trump, true to form, has delayed following through on that commitment, ignoring the advice of Pentagon officials.

It's against this backdrop that the editorial board of the Washington Post published a rather extraordinary piece the other day, making the case that the Republican president is trying to leverage that support for reasons that are almost hard to believe.

Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we're reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine's help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

So let me get this straight. We committed aid to Ukraine. The Pentagon urged Trump to follow through on that commitment. According to the reliably centrist editorial board of the Washington Post, Trump said he'd consider honoring that commitment, but only if a foreign government agreed to take steps to help influence the American presidential election in 2020.

Or put another way, the sitting American president is telling Ukraine, in classic shakedown fashion, "It's a nice aid package we have here, which you need for security reasons. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

If you're wondering why in the world Ukraine would have anything to do with the 2020 race in the United States in the first place, the New York Times published a curious article in May, raising questions about Joe Biden’s work several years ago on a government-reform effort in Ukraine. There was some suggestion that the Delaware Democrat’s son may have benefited, but the claims of possible wrongdoing quickly unraveled, and the story went largely overlooked.

Trump and his team, however, believe that if they dig hard enough on this, there may be some dirt they could use.

Indeed, Rudy Giuliani has already acknowledged his efforts to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations intended to benefit the American president, and if the editorial board of the Washington Post is right, Trump is trying to leverage U.S. military aid in pursuit of the same goal.

All of this comes on the heels of Trump's public remarks in June that he would welcome foreign intervention in the 2020 elections.

I believe the technical term for political antics like these is "bonkers."