Paul wrote here about a selection of text exchanges among American diplomats that Adam Schiff released on Thursday. Politico, a reliable narrator of the Democratic Party line, termed the texts “explosive.”
Politico highlights this one, from then-Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, dated July 25, the day when President Trump spoke on the phone with President Zelensky:
Politico tells us that “This is a key exchange that Democrats are likely to present as further evidence of a direct quid pro quo between Trump and Zelensky.” But there is nothing necessarily wrong with a quid pro quo; it depends on what he quo is. It happens all the time that diplomats say, we will do X if you do Y. This is commonly referred to as diplomacy. So the question is whether there is anything wrong with incentivizing Ukraine’s government to investigate whether improper efforts were made by Ukrainians to “meddle” in the 2016 presidential election.
This is evidently a proper subject for investigation. Indeed, we have read about little else for the last two and a half years but foreign “meddling” in that election. Politico assures us that the idea that some improper anti-Trump activity emanated from Ukraine “revolves around a baseless conspiracy theory.” I don’t know; that might or might not be true. But the idea that President Trump colluded with the Russians also revolved around a baseless conspiracy theory, and that investigation dominated the news for years. There is obviously nothing wrong with wanting the Ukrainians to conduct the investigation as described, and, therefore, nothing wrong with the quid pro quo.
The other messages that Politico finds explosive are these, from career diplomat Bill Taylor, who comes across as a Deep State Democrat:
A hold was put on security assistance for a month or two, for reasons that as far as I know have not been made public, and then lifted.
Here Taylor is mouthing the Democratic Party line, saying that investigating possible corruption in the Obama/Biden administration–the Burisma case–constitutes “help with a political campaign.” The implication is that no matter whether the Biden family did or did not take a $3 million bribe from Burisma (I think it is already quite clear that they did), the matter cannot properly be investigated. But why not?
A commenter at Ann Althouse’s site made the point this way:
I would just like to announce today that I plan to run in every presidential campaign for the remainder of my natural life. As a result of my perpetual run for the highest office in the land, anything I may have done in the past is entirely off-limits to any investigation. To even suggest I should be investigated is an insult to democracy itself. Thank you and God bless America.
New Rule: Everyone is subject to investigation and prosecution except those running for office as Democrats against Trump.
There is no coherent reason why corruption in the Obama/Biden administration should not be investigated, and urging or pressuring allied countries to carry out such investigations is entirely proper and, one would think, a valuable service to our democracy.
Kurt Volker, author of some of the “explosive” emails, submitted testimony to several House committees on Thursday. Sean Davis comments on his testimony at The Federalist, and you can read Volker’s written testimony here. Davis writes:
Congressional testimony from the former top American envoy to Ukraine directly contradicts the impeachment narrative offered by congressional Democrats and their media allies. Ambassador Kurt Volker, who served for two years as the top U.S. diplomatic envoy to Ukraine, testified on Thursday that he was never aware of and never took part in any effort to push the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter. He also stressed that the interactions between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials were facilitated not to find dirt on Biden, but to assuage concerns that the incoming Ukrainian government would not be able to get a handle on corruption within the country.
Several aspects of Volker’s written testimony are interesting. He describes how the Trump administration has reversed Obama’s weak Ukraine policy by standing up to the Russians:
U.S. policy toward Ukraine for the past two years has been strong, consistent, and has enjoyed support across the Administration, bipartisan support in Congress, and support among our Allies and Ukraine.
You may recall that in the Spring of 2017…there were major, complicated questions swirling in public debate about the direction of U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
Would the Administration lift sanctions against Russia? Would it make some kind of “grand bargain” with Russia, in which it would trade recognition of Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian territory for some other deal in Syria or elsewhere? Would the Administration recognize Russia’s claimed annexation of Crimea? …
…Then-Secretary of State Tillerson and I agreed that our fundamental policy goals would be to restore the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and to assure the safety and security of all Ukrainian citizens, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or religion.
In two years, the track record speaks for itself.
• I was the Administration’s most outspoken figure highlighting Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, and Russia’s responsibility to end the war.
• We coordinated closely with our European Allies and Canada, to maintain a united front against Russian aggression, and for Ukraine’s democracy, reform, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Ukraine policy is perhaps the one area where the U.S. and its European Allies are in lock-step.
• This coordination helped to strengthen U.S. sanctions against Russia, and to maintain EU sanctions as well.
• Along with others in the Administration, I strongly advocated for lifting the ban on the sale of lethal defensive arms to Ukraine, advocated for increasing U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, and urged other countries to follow the U.S. lead.
• I engaged with our Allies, with Ukraine, and with Russia in negotiations to implement the Minsk Agreements, holding a firm line on insisting on the withdrawal of Russian forces, dismantling of the so-called “People’s Republics,” and restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
• In order to shine a spotlight on Russian aggression and to highlight the humanitarian plight suffered by the people in the Donbas as a result, I visited the war zone in Ukraine three times, with media in tow.
• Together with others in the Administration, we kept U.S. policy steady through Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Ukraine, and worked hard to strengthen the U.S.-Ukraine bilateral relationship under the new President and government, helping shepherd a peaceful transition of power in Ukraine.
In short, whereas two years ago, most observers would have said that time is on Russia’s side, we have turned the tables, and time is now on Ukraine’s side.
One might think that in all the talk about President Trump and Ukraine, the press might occasionally mention how successful the administration has been, particularly in responding to the Russian aggression that took place during the Obama administration.
Just kidding. We all know that will never happen.
Volker’s testimony is interesting in a number of other ways. He notes that Joe Biden was never mentioned in the “explosive” text exchanges. He describes his interactions with Rudy Giuliani in detail, including this:
We had a long conversation about Ukraine. To my surprise, Mr. Giuliani had already come to the conclusion on his own that Mr. Lutsenko was not credible and acting in a self-serving capacity. He mentioned both the accusations about Vice President Biden and about interference in the 2016 election, and stressed that all he wanted to see was for Ukraine to investigate what happened in the past and apply its own laws.
Volker offered to Giuliani, and to the House committees, his own opinions on the merits of the two potential investigations:
Concerning the allegations, I stressed that no one in the new team governing Ukraine had anything to do with anything that may have happened in 2016 or before – they were making TV shows at the time. Mr. Lutsenko, however, would remain in place until a new government was seated in a month or more. It was important to reach out and provide strong U.S. support for President-elect Zelenskyy.
I also said at that July 19 meeting that it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President. A different issue is whether some individual Ukrainians may have attempted to influence the 2016 election or thought they could buy influence: that is at least plausible, given Ukraine’s reputation for corruption.
Of course, the important question is not whether or not Joe Biden was in fact influenced by the payment of $3 million to his son. Accepting bribes is corrupt, and potentially criminal, whether or not one subsequently acts on behalf of the person or entity that paid the bribe.
In short, when we sift to the bottom of the Ukraine controversy, there is not much, if anything, there. In my view, there was nothing wrong with encouraging the current Ukrainian government to investigate 1) whether Ukrainian officials or interests “meddled” in the 2016 presidential election, and 2) whether the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma sought to buy influence in the Obama administration by paying Hunter Biden $3 million in exchange for essentially no services, at a time when Joe Biden was in charge of Ukraine policy. Both of those questions deserve to be investigated.
It might have been a bad idea (although not an impeachable offense) to significantly alter U.S. policy toward Ukraine in order to bring about such investigations, but that didn’t happen. Security assistance has gone forward and, as Volker outlines, the Trump administration has followed a strong, pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia line. So I am at a loss to understand where there is any scandal–let alone an impeachable offense!–in the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.