So far, it appears that when President Trump repeatedly urged the new president of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, he did not say that U.S. aid to Ukraine was contingent on such an investigation. Whatever one thinks about a U.S. president asking a foreign leader to investigate the president’s potential opponent in a upcoming election, absent the quid-pro-quo element this story should not put Trump’s presidency in jeopardy.
But now, according to the Washington Post, congressional Democrats are “privately questioning” whether Trump froze aid to Ukraine because that country’s government was not investigating the Bidens. Query: Can Democrats be “privately questioning” something when they bring their question to the Washington Post?
If Trump froze aid to Ukraine because its government did not investigate Trump’s political opponent, this would, in my view, constitute serious malfeasance. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has approved U.S. aid to Ukraine in order to help that country resist Russian aggression. Freezing this aid because the Ukrainian government wouldn’t go after a Trump domestic opponent would be truly scandalous.
However, the Post’s article falls well short of establishing that this happened. The administration unfroze aid to Ukraine last week. Is the delay in the release of the aid long and unprecedented enough to raise a good faith suspicion that a quid-pro-quo was at work? If so, were there legitimate reasons — reasons unrelated to advancing Trump’s political interests — that overcome the suspicion and reasonably explain the delay?
I don’t know.
Congressional Republicans are answering the second question — whether there is an innocent explanation for the delay in aid — in the affirmative. They cite the fact that Ukraine had a new president, a former comedian with no political or governmental experience. Thus, the argument goes, it was reasonable to take a wait-and-see attitude towards this government and its ability to make good use of our aid.
Congressional Republicans have a second talking point. They note that President Obama for a time resisted providing lethal military assistance to Ukraine.
However, Obama’s resistance was based on policy considerations — his squeamishness about provoking Russia. Although Obama was widely (and correctly) criticized for his Ukraine policy, no one suggested (to my knowledge, anyway) that it was based on the desire to harm his domestic political opponents.
I don’t assume that Trump’s freezing (for a while) of aid to Ukraine was based on such a desire, either. But if facts come to light that show it was, we’ll have a genuine major scandal on our hands, in my view.