Analysis: State Dept. Text Messages Reveal An Explicit Quid Pro Quo With Ukraine
The State Department text messages released by the House this week have serious implications for President Donald Trump, despite Republican claims to the contrary, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
Though the messages represent “only a subset of the full body of the materials” and fail to implicate the president directly, the exchanges “include, in two suggestive moments, specifically the sort of don’t-document-this responses that imply an awareness of lines being crossed.”
One text from Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, to Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, offers an explicit quid pro quo, The Post noted.
After taylor made clear in July that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted “Ukraine [to be] taken seriously” and not just serve as “an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics” — part of which was obtaining a face-to-face meeting with Trump — Volker responded with conditions.
Just hours before Trump and Zelensky would speak on the phone on July 25, Volker texted to Taylor: “Heard from White House,” Volker wrote, “assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”
The Post noted this quid pro quo was quite blatant: “Promise to get to the bottom of events in 2016 — which could refer to either the hacking or to the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor targeted by Biden — and you’ll get the validity that comes with a White House visit.”
The texts also reveal that U.S. officials helped fashion a statement Ukrainian officials planned in announcing the Biden probe.
The Post wrote:
In an exchange with Volker on Aug. 9, [European Union Ambassador Gordon] Sondland suggested that dates would be finalized as soon as Yermak confirmed … something. From the context of Sondland’s comments in the thread, it seems that the something is a written statement that would accompany a news conference by Zelensky, presumably to announce the new investigations.
Asked how he got the White House to finally agree to set dates, Sondland suggested that it isn’t final yet: “I think potus really wants the deliverable” — again presumably that statement. Shortly after that exchange, Volker contacted [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani to get guidance on what the statement should include.
Yermak later insisted that a date be set for the Trump-Zelensky meeting before Ukraine moved forward on any announcements, writing, “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.”
Volker subsequently sent Sondland a text outlining what looks to be draft language to include in Ukraine’s statement:
“I want to declare that this is unacceptable,” Volker wrote, seemingly writing as though he is Zelensky speaking. “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.”
Sondland responded: “Perfect.”
The statement never happened, and it is unclear why.
Also implied in the text message communications is that U.S. military aid was dangled in front of Ukraine, and that officials attempted to hide this fact.
“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor asked of Sondland in a Sept. 1 text.
Sondland replied, “Call me,” and their subsequent conversation is not on record.
After another call took place between the pair, Taylor raised his concerns over military aid again, texting to Sondland: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
The response from Sondland was markedly pointed, with language unusually formal compared to previous texts.
“Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” he wrote. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”
“I suggest we stop the back and forth by text,” Sondland added. “If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna” — executive secretary at the State Department — “or S” — possibly meaning the secretary of state — “a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.”
This was the end of the text exchanges on the matter.