U.S.

No Quid Pro Quo?

President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., July 17, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
As evidence mounts, the GOP defense of Trump’s call is falling apart.

During the last impeachment, the Latin expression coitus interruptus got a workout. This time, it’s quid pro quo. Republicans lashed themselves to this mast when the White House’s own rough transcript of the Trump–Zelensky call was disclosed. That document, so damaging that one might think its release was the work of Trump’s opponents rather than Trump himself, left no doubt that the president had strong-armed a besieged ally for political dirt.

Enter the QPQ squad. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania allowed that the conversation was “inappropriate” but “reveals no quid pro quo.” Senator David Perdue of Georgia said that the media had “talked about eight quid pro quos. I can’t find one.” Nor could Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. “I didn’t find it [the call] concerning,” he told Politico. “There was no quid pro quo, you’d have to have that if there was going to be anything wrong.”

Representative Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) tweeted repeatedly about the lack of QPQ, while Representative Doug Collins (R., Ga.) offered that “there’s nothing there.” But the most embarrassing declaration award must go to Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) who told National Review last month, “What would’ve been wrong is if the president had suggested to the Ukrainian government that if you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid. That was the accusation; that did not remotely happen.”

Yeah, it did.

The Republican reliance on “no QPQ” was odd from the beginning. The president’s own words left no doubt. Zelensky asked for military aid. Trump admonished Zelensky that the U.S. had been very generous to Ukraine but that there hadn’t always been reciprocity. He then said he needed a “favor” and launched into the Democratic-server garbage that he’d picked up from Reddit or Alex Jones or something, followed by demands that Ukraine investigate the Bidens. You want something from me for your country? You’ve gotta give me what I ask for my personal benefit. The “something,” by the way, was legally appropriated by Congress. The president cannot lawfully withhold that something for any but statutorily listed reasons. The lone Republican senator who seems to have remembered how the Constitution works was Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.

Most Republicans, far from guarding institutional prerogatives or constitutional principles, have become wind-up toys. When Mick Mulvaney gave a press conference to announce that, whaddya know, the very best place to hold the G-7 meeting was Trump’s Doral resort in Miami, and he detoured to boast that of course there was a QPQ — “Get over it” — Republicans spoke only off the record. “Totally inexplicable,” a nameless lawmaker told the Washington Post.

Here were Mulvaney’s actual words: “Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.” He later tried to tell Fox’s Chris Wallace that he hadn’t said that and that it was a media misrepresentation. (The DNC server “corruption” is also a fantasy, though that’s another story.)

On a daily basis, evidence mounts of the QPQ (not that more was needed). Trump appointee Kurt Volker texted a Ukrainian official: “Heard from White House-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 Ukrainians were keen for a White House meeting.

William Taylor, a lifelong public servant (West Point, Vietnam Bronze Star, NATO, U.S. Department of State) testified under oath that military assistance to Ukraine, which is in a shooting war with Russia, was withheld on the president’s orders. Trump demanded that Zelensky make a public announcement of an official Ukrainian investigation into the 2016 election and the Bidens. It was to be on CNN.

Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, told Taylor that he had been wrong to tell the Ukrainians that only a White House meeting was linked to the announcement of a formal investigation. In fact, “‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.” A parade of distinguished witnesses has echoed this story. Some are career public servants. Some are leading Republicans and Trump appointees. Former energy secretary Rick Perry, though straining to help Trump’s cause, admitted that he was asked to phone shadow secretary of state Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine.

Republicans used to speak movingly about the importance of liberty. They said they stood against tyranny in all its forms. Just a few years ago, they would have thought it insane if someone had handed them a time machine and told them that in 2019 they’d be defending the abuse of a small country by a small man. Yet here we are.

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