Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, as recently as Thursday, have argued President Donald Trump did not direct a freeze on $400 million in US aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing investigations that would help Trump’s campaign in 2020. But Trump, as ever, is making his apologists look dumb. In a 53-minute phone call this morning to Fox & Friends, Trump pretty much confessed, again, to the actions for which he faces impeachment.
“There’s tremendous corruption,” Trump said during the call. “Why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption?”
Trump seems to admit quid pro quo at 6:34: "We're looking for corruption. There's tremendous corruption. Why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there's this kind of corruption? If you look at my call I said 'corruption.'" https://t.co/77jZY8DYTD
— Timothy Noah (@TimothyNoah1) November 22, 2019
To be sure, the president’s defenders can note that Trump asserted here that he was worried about corruption. But moments earlier, Trump defined just what he meant by “corruption.” And it’s not actually corruption.
“They have the server, right, from the DNC, Democratic National Committee,” Trump said. “The FBI went in and they told them, get out of here, we’re not giving it to you. They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a country—which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. And I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI’s never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”
This is a nonsense conspiracy theory that even unctuous Fox hosts weren’t endorsing. Crowdstrike, based in California, is not owned by a wealthy Ukrainian. The DNC did not have one server. They had about 140. Crowdstrike imaged them and then gave the data to the FBI, not Ukraine. Trump’s claim is part of a false argument that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election. Russia, which US intelligence agencies have concluded interfered in the 2016 election, has promoted the lie that Ukraine was responsible. This is an apparent Kremlin effort to deflect blame from its own intelligence agents.
But putting that aside, Trump’s words were revealing. Asked by host Steve Doocy: “Are you sure?” Trump bore down: “Well, that’s what the word is,” the president said. “That’s what I asked, actually in my phone call.” (This refers to Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky.)
“I asked it very point-blank, because we’re looking for corruption,” Trump continued. “There’s tremendous corruption. Why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption. If you look at my call, I said, you know, ‘corruption.'”
In fact, Trump did not once say the word “corruption” in the reconstructed transcript of his call with Zelensky that the White House released in September. Instead, Trump mentioned the same conspiracy theory. “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine,” Trump said. “They say CrowdStrike…I guess you have one of your wealthy people…The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
So when Trump referred on Fox and Friends to “this kind of corruption” what he actually meant was his conspiracy theory that a Ukrainian oligarch has the DNC server. Trump and his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, have made similar statements that seemed to confirm a quid pro quo involving aid to Ukraine. But as Business Insider notes, this was the first time that Trump explained that his supposed worry about corruption in Ukraine related to the server issue.
Trump is telling everyone that he froze military aid to Ukraine to get them to announce an investigation into Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election. Congressional Republicans should listen to him.