Dispatch September 20, 2019

Trump’s Extortion Racket and 7 Questions He Must Answer

President Donald Trump turned U.S. foreign policy into his own personal extortion racket. New reporting and comments from Rudy Giuliani make it increasingly clear that Trump is pressuring the new president of Ukraine to manufacture a political scandal to help him in the 2020 election. Trump did that not by threatening to withhold vital military aid to an ally at war with Russia but by actually doing so. The president was withholding taxpayer funds for pure extortion, done solely to advance Trump’s political prospects.

Trump held U.S. military aid to Ukraine hostage in order to pressure Ukraine to help him politically.

  • Shortly before July 25, 2019, Trump’s White House decided to block $250 million in security assistance to Ukraine.
    • This funding is critical to Ukraine’s ongoing fight against Russia, helping it modernize its forces and providing it with critical equipment like body armor, radios, and night vision.
    • According to Ukraine’s Kyiv Post, as of August 30, 2019, 72 Ukrainian soldiers have died this year in the fight against Russia.
  • On July 25, Trump held a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
    • While the U.S. government’s readout of the call only said that Trump had congratulated Zelensky on his victory in parliamentary elections, Ukraine’s readout said they discussed “investigations into corruption cases that have hampered interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A.”
    • A whistleblower complaint that is being withheld from Congress by the Trump administration reportedly claims that during a call with an unnamed foreign leader, Trump made a “promise” that was deemed by the Intelligence Community Inspector General to be a matter of “urgent concern.”
    • Reporting has since claimed that the whistleblower complaint specifically involves Ukraine, suggesting that Trump made some sort of “promise” to Zelensky on that July 25 phone call.
    • This “promise” may have been Trump offering to release his hostage, the $250 million in aid—which was, in fact, released on September 12, after the whistleblower filed their complaint but before news of the complaint broke.

Trump is trying to protect himself and Russia and damage a 2020 opponent at the same time.

  • The president’s loyal personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has been lobbying all year for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and claims about Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine.
  • Giuliani has spent the better part of this year communicating with high-ranking Ukrainian prosecutors in an attempt to get Ukraine to open these two investigations.
    • The first investigation targets former Vice President Joe Biden, who Giuliani claims acted improperly in 2016 when calling for Ukraine to remove a prosecutor involved in investigating a Ukrainian energy company on whose board his son sat. Multiple outlets have debunked the allegations, which The Washington Post has called “bogus;” however, that hasn’t stopped Giuliani from pushing Ukraine to investigate it.
    • Giuliani also wants Ukraine to help Trump deflect attention from his collusion with Russia by having the Ukrainian government say that it interfered in the 2016 election on Clinton’s behalf. He has urged Ukraine to investigate “claims that revelations of payments by a Ukrainian political party to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, were part of a plot to wreck Mr. Trump’s candidacy.”
  • In May 2019, Giuliani canceled a planned trip to Ukraine where he was going to try to meet with Zelensky and ask him to pursue these investigations.
  • Several days after Trump’s call with Zelensky, Giuliani traveled to Spain, where he met with Zelensky aide Andri Yermak and “strongly urged” him to investigate the ties between the Biden family and Ukraine.
  • If Ukraine bowed to the pressure, both of these apparently baseless investigations could hugely benefit Trump in 2020. One could spread conspiracy theories about one of his main 2020 opponents, effectively getting another country to “meddle in his favor for 2020.” The other would try to undermine the findings of the Mueller investigation, following which Manafort was convicted of and pleaded guilty to charges related to conspiracy, and would enable Trump to say both sides colluded with foreign countries.

The obstruction of justice has never stopped. Trump could clear this situation up quickly by allowing the full whistleblower complaint to be provided to Congress. Instead, he and his administration are keeping Congress and the American people in the dark about a matter of urgent concern in which their president reportedly made an unknown promise to a foreign leader.

Here are a few critical questions that the administration needs to answer immediately:

  • What explains the difference between the two countries readouts of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky?
  • Who ordered OMB to hold the security assistance funding and what was the reason that they gave?
  • Was the White House in any way involved in preventing ODNI from releasing the whistleblower information?
  • Who, if anyone, at the Department of Justice consulted with ODNI in their legal reasoning to not release the whistleblower complaint?
  • Who at the Department of Justice, Department of State, and White House, if anyone, have consulted on this matter with Rudy Giuliani?
  • Did the DNI give the White House the identity of the whistleblower? And how would the President know if that whistleblower was “partisan”?
  • Was the Attorney General involved directly in the DOJ blocking of the IG investigation to the Congress?