Thinking clearly about Trump and aid to Ukraine

That’s the title of an article by Byron York in the Washington Examiner. Byron’s thinking on the subject is consistent with what I have been trying to say the past few weeks.

Byron identifies five possible explanations for the temporary withholding of military aid to Ukraine that have been put forth by one party or another. The first three are: (1) Trump’s general dislike of foreign aid, (2) his concern that other countries aren’t doing enough, (3) his general concern about corruption in Ukraine.

All are legitimate, perfectly non-corrupt reasons for withholding aid. However, Trump’s enemies insist they are not the real reasons or, at a minimum, that additional reasons were also in play.

The alleged additional reasons are: (4) Trump’s desire to see Ukraine assist in an inquiry into matters relating to the investigation of Russia interference in the 2016 campaign and (5) Trump’s desire to see Ukraine investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden and actions by Joe Biden to further these interests.

That Trump had these desires seems evident from the unofficial transcript of his famous phone conversation with Ukraine’s president. Whether they were the reasons for the temporary withholding of aid is less clear.

Byron agrees that motive (5) would be an improper reason for withholding aid. But he disputes, as I have, that motive (4) would be:

Trump’s desire to see Ukraine assist in the 2016 “investigation of the investigation” was entirely reasonable. . .In fact, some part of the U.S. government has been investigating the 2016 election since at least mid-2016.

There is still an investigation going on — Durham’s — and it would not be unusual for the government to want Ukraine to cooperate. After all, Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation sought and received the cooperation of several foreign countries. Investigating 2016 is something that has been standard procedure for the last few years.

As to motive (5) — Trump’s desire to investigate the Bidens — Byron makes an important point: Mick Mulvaney unequivocally denied that it factored into the decision to withhold aid. The mainstream media, though, has suggested otherwise:

Some press coverage conflated the two and reported that Mulvaney had admitted Trump held up the aid while demanding Ukraine “investigate Democrats.” Mulvaney, the New York Times said, “told reporters that military aid was held back in part to prod Ukraine to investigate Democrats.” The Washington Post reported that Mulvaney admitted “that Trump withheld aid meant for Ukraine to push the government there to investigate Democrats.”

Not so:

Investigating the roots of the Trump-Russia investigation is not “investigating Democrats.” It is investigating the actions of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies during the 2016 campaign. Holding back aid to force Ukraine to investigate the Bidens would be “investigating Democrats,” but Mulvaney specifically denied that Trump did that.

As far as I can from information available to the public, the evidence so far does not establish that aid was conditioned on Ukraine investigating the Bidens.

That’s not to say this didn’t happen, at least for a time. There is evidence that raises suspicion.

Indeed, it’s being reported that Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was told that Trump wanted aid to Ukraine withheld until that country agreed to investigate the Bidens. However, we know from documentary evidence that at some point Taylor was told that Trump said there was no quid pro quo in effect.

In any case, Byron’s article makes important distinctions the media has ignored. It is, indeed, clarifying.

However, there’s one point I’m still confused about. Byron notes:

Trump was curious about a theory, one which appears to have no basis in fact, that someone in Ukraine somehow possesses the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked in 2016 and which the DNC did not let investigators examine.

In fact, Trump talked to Ukraine about investigating this. Byron goes on to say that the DNC server ties into the larger issue of the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. But the connection between the server and the “origins” investigation isn’t as evident to me as it is to Byron.

In a sense, moreover, looking into the DNC server can be characterized as “investigating Democrats.” This is certainly how Trump’s enemies want to characterize it.

But that’s an overly dramatic and rather misleading characterization. What an investigation into the server would really be about is an examination of foreign involvement in the 2016 election, a completely legitimate subject for inspection. If that spilled over into investigating certain Democrats, this would be no more problematic than the fact that the Mueller investigation resulted in scrutiny of certain Republicans.

So for me this matter boils down to (1) whether Trump temporarily withheld aid because he wanted Ukraine to pledge to investigate the Bidens and (2) if so, whether this is a grounds for impeachment where the aid was given to Ukraine and Ukraine did not launch such as investigation.

My answer to the first question is: Maybe, but I don’t know. My answer to the second is: No.

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