WASHINGTON — It’s fair to say at this juncture that America’s Quid and Ukraine’s Quo have been caught in bed together.
The fevered search for a damning quid pro quo since the White House released a readout of Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — in which Trump requested an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter — has proved productive.
A series of text messages provided to Congress by former U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker irrefutably shows a clear quid pro quo. Full stop. Contrary to White House assertions, the congressionally approved military aid that Trump was unilaterally withholding at the time (and an invitation to the White House) was being used as leverage for pushing Zelensky to conduct an investigation into the Bidens.
In a 2018 speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden recounted telling former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in December 2015 that the U.S. would withhold a $1 billion loan guarantee if then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin wasn’t removed from office. It was believed by both American and European officials at the time that anti-corruption efforts had become sluggish under Shokin.
Said Biden: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a (expletive). He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
Biden’s diplomatic triumph seemed to come at a propitious time for Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company for which Hunter Biden was serving as a board member. This potential conflict of interest is the basis for Trump’s consuming obsession with the Bidens and Ukraine.
Burisma had been under investigation, but for activities before Hunter Biden joined the company’s board in 2014. Indeed, it was under Shokin that the investigation into the company stalled. In 2015, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine decried Shokin’s laggardly attention to corruption throughout the country, and Shokin’s ouster was greeted by Western diplomats as a victory.
Most, if not all, of what Trump thinks he knows about the Bidens and Ukraine has come from his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly has been all over the map, from Madrid to Warsaw to Paris, working back channels and coaxing Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate a conspiracy commensurate with the president’s appetite for same.
Giuliani’s conclusion and, therefore, Trump’s, is that the Bidens were in cahoots to issue $1 billion in loan guarantees in exchange for Shokin’s firing, thus putting an end to the Burisma investigation. Judging from Washington Post interviews with some of these prosecutors — and with other Ukraine experts — it’s possible that Giuliani was being fed information by Ukrainian officials that may or may not have been true as a means of currying favor with Giuliani (and by extension Trump), thereby enhancing their own political status within Ukraine’s power structure.
Such byzantine calculations remind us that quids and quos come in a wide variety of flavors and textures, some tastier than others.