Thursday, November 21, 2019

What If There Was No Quid Pro Quo?

Gary Fouse

Hat tip The Hill

Yesterday, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testified in his opening statement that there was a quid pro quo as to a presidential call with President Trump and a White House visit in exchange for Ukrainian President Zelenskyy committing to investigating Ukraine's alleged involvement in the 2016 US election and investigating the Bidens. He also presumed that military aid was tied to the above commitment by Zelenskyy. The testimony went back and forth with Democrats and Republicans making their own arguments about Sondland's presumptions and the one thing that Trump said directly to him over the phone. "I want nothing. No quid pro quo".

To the media, Sondland's testimony was a "bombshell" Last night on ABC Evening News, David Muir and his correspondents highlighted Sondland's presumptions while explaining away what Trump actually said to Sondland, pointing out that this conversation occurred after the White House had become aware of the whistle blower's complaint. The media concluded that Trump was covering his backside. Meanwhilke, the headline caption on the TV screen was "Bombshell testimony". It was anything but.

At this point, it is pretty clear that the House will vote to impeach Trump, and the Senate will vote not to remove him. The Democrats seem to be pinning their hopes on some smoking gun that will show up proving there was a quid pro quo.  So what if this is true? So what?

My own common sense tells me that in all likelihood, there was a quid pro quo. Trump did want Ukraine to investigate that country's alleged involvement in the 2016 election and he did want them to investigate the entire Burisma scandal, which includes having an unqualified Hunter Biden on its board of directors and Joe Biden's successful demand that the prosecutor investigating Burisma be fired if Ukraine wanted one billion dollars in aid.

In the case of Trump, Republicans point out that Ukraine got the aid, the phone call from Trump, and the meeting with Trump (at the UN) while no investigation was launched.

But let us assume that there was a quid pro quo. Is this not a common part of international diplomacy? For example, is there a quid pro quo when Trump conducts his diplomacy with North Korea? If Norea Korea halts its nuclear weapon program, the US will do this or that. Of course.

But Gary, you say: Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, who is a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Biden is his political rival.

True. But does that change things?

US foreign aid is hinged to the receiving country not being engaged in corruption, however vague that condition is. Ukraine is corrupt, as are many other countries receiving US aid. In return for our aid, they are supposed to at least demonstrate they are taking steps to fight corruption in order that they may be "certified". Often, that is a sham because it is deemed in our interest to continue aid to a particular country. When I worked with DEA in Thailand in the 1970s, that country was riddled with corruption-and still is. They get plenty of US aid. I could go on and on.

Part of the corruption angle in Ukraine is that they allegedly improperly engaged in meddling in out 2016 election. The controversy over Crowdstrike and DNC hacking, and whether it was done by Ukraine or Russia is a matter of dispute. It is not a matter of dispute that during the election, the Ukrainian ambassador to the US wrote an op-ed criticizing then candidate Trump. The Ukrainian embassy in Washington has confirmed that they were approached by a DNC operative during the campaign who tried to enlist their help in digging up dirt on Trump and Paul Manafort. Rightfully or wrongfully, Trump likely feels that he was the victim of a lot of dirty tricks during the election, and that Ukraine had a role. After all, a Ukrainian court issued a statement that there had been meddling by their country. So is Trump justified in asking Ukraine to investigate that matter? I think he is.

As to the more important matter of the Bidens, that is also a legitimate issue, and if Joe Boden gets the nomination, expect to hear much more about it in those campaign ads. Then-Vice President Biden traveled to Ukraine and demanded that the president fire the chief prosecutor-who was investigating Burisma, a company accused of corruption, which had put Hunter Biden on its board of directors though he had no qualifications for the post. Biden told the president that if the prosecutor wasn't fired within 6 hours, Ukraine would not get the aid it had been promised-some one billion dollars. Within 6 hours, the prosecutor was fired. How do we know all this? Biden bragged about it on tape while speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations. Of course, he left out the information about his son being on the board of Burisma and that Burisma was under investigation.

Quid pro quo.

So let us assume the worst: Suppose Trump did have a quid pro quo that included an investigation of the Bidens, and let's assume he did it for purely political reasons. What is worse, the action of Trump in his phone call to Zelenskyy or Biden's demand to the previous Ukrainian president?

And here is another point: If Trump cannot ask for an investigation of Biden because he is a potential opponent in a future election, doesn't that give Biden-or anyone else in a similar position, literally, a license to steal? Is Biden immune from an investigation into his action simply because he is running for Trump's job? No.