Text Messages Dive Deeper Into Trump’s Extortion of Ukraine

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The House Intelligence Committee has obtained a series of text messages that went back and forth this summer between the acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and two of Donald Trump’s roving troubleshooters for Ukraine, Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker. These came after Rudy Giuliani had already spent months trying to get the Ukrainians to open an investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden.

The following text was sent just before the now-infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and the new Ukrainian president, but after Trump had put a hold on Ukrainian military assistance and told his aides to lie to Congress about why he did it:

Volker is clearly saying that a visit to the White House is contingent on Ukraine opening an investigation—and convincing Trump that the investigation will really happen. After the phone call, Volker and Gordon Sondland are dispatched to help the Ukrainians “navigate” Trump’s demands. Two weeks later, we get this:

President Trump “really wants” the investigation opened. Does the president of Ukraine know this? “Yep.”

Sondland goes on to suggest that they draft a statement for the president of Ukraine to deliver, thus publicly committing him to an investigation of the Bidens. A week later Sondland asks if they still want an “unequivocal statement” drafted and Volker says yes. A couple of weeks after that Ambassador Taylor asks about the plans for a White House visit:

Note that Taylor is a career diplomat. Sondland is a political appointee and a Trump loyalist. He obviously thinks it’s unwise to discuss this via text message.

Taylor and Sondland have their phone call, but obviously Taylor is still under the impression that military assistance is being directly held hostage to investigating the Bidens:

Sondland the loyalist dutifully says no, no, no; it’s not a quid pro quo. Nevertheless, he continues to think it unwise to discuss the details of what it is via text.

The upshot of all this is that it’s crystal clear to everyone that Trump is truly obsessed with getting Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Both a White House visit and military assistance are being held hostage to this. Volker knows it and Taylor knows it, while Sondland plays the loyalist role of explaining what the pretext is supposed to be: that all Trump wants is a commitment to running a clean government.

Adding all this to the transcript of the July 25 phone call makes it obvious to anyone over the age of five what’s going on. But will it matter? Both the White House and conservative media have already taken the position that, sure, Trump extorted Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, but the Bidens totally deserved it because they’re so corrupt. No way is there anything impeachable about that.

So far, Republicans in Congress remain unmoved, text messages or no. Tick tock.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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