Dispatch November 18, 2019

Trump Ran the Extortion Campaign


Evidence is continuing to pile up that President Donald Trump directed the extortion campaign from start to finish. Both testimony and reporting have confirmed over and over that Trump personally orchestrated not only the decision to withhold aid from the Ukrainian government but also the effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents.

Trump personally confirmed that he directed the Office of Management and Budget to withhold aid from Ukraine.

  • From the moment the scandal broke, it’s been reported over and over again that Trump himself directed his government to withhold nearly $400 million in aid to the Ukrainian government—something Trump publicly confirmed on September 24.
  • He did so over the objections of multiple government agencies, including the Department of Defense, which warned the White House that the decision to withhold the aid was potentially illegal, even before Trump’s reason for doing so became public.
  • Despite House Republicans’ efforts to pin the extortion scheme on underlings such as Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Trump was the one in a position to unilaterally withhold aid from Ukraine.

Trump demanded the investigations in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

  • According to the White House’s own summary of the July 25 call, when Zelensky said that Ukraine was “almost ready to buy more Javelins [missiles],” Trump responded by asking Ukraine to “do us a favor though” by working with Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate conspiracy theories about the Bidens and the 2016 election.
  • And Trump clearly knew about more than just the basics: He also mentioned former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was pushed out because she wouldn’t help with the pressure campaign, and former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who helped push the debunked conspiracy theories at the heart of Trump’s extortion effort.

Everybody involved says they were acting on Trump’s orders and were reporting back to him.

  • Newly released emails show that Sondland continually updated White House officials, including Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, about his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponents.
  • According to two witnesses, one of whom testified before Congress on Friday, the day after Trump’s call with Zelensky, Sondland spoke to Trump on the phone from a restaurant in Kyiv and personally reassured Trump that Ukraine would announce the desired investigations.
  • Tim Morrison, a top White House national security aide, testified that Sondland explicitly told Morrison he was acting on Trump’s behalf.
  • Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told Congress that he initially received no explanation for the decision to withhold aid until Sondland told him that Trump made the decision in order to put Zelensky in a “public box.”
  • Laura Cooper, the top Defense Department official in charge of Ukraine, testified that it was her understanding that Trump had personally directed the hold on military aid money to Ukraine.
  • Catherine Croft, a Ukraine specialist at the State Department, likewise testified that she was given no explanation for why the OMB was withholding funds from Ukraine except that they were doing so “at the direction of the president.”
  • Mulvaney publicly confirmed that the White House withheld the aid as part of a quid pro quo in October, only to frantically try to walk his statement back the next day.
  • Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, another of the “Three Amigos” executing Trump’s Ukraine policy, testified that Trump personally instructed him to coordinate his efforts in Ukraine with Giuliani.
  • Giuliani told The New York Times himself that he was acting on Trump’s behalf, and that he was coordinating his “meddling in an investigation” in Ukraine with the president.
  • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman reportedly said that Trump and Giuliani personally gave them a “secret mission”—pressuring Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political opponents—at last year’s White House Chanukah party.

The Ukraine investigation has never been a question of what Trump knew and when he knew it. Those answers have always been clear: He not only knew but was also actively orchestrating the extortion scheme from the very beginning.