As I argued on Thursday, the impeachment proceedings have delivered decisive evidence for a charge of bribery against President Donald Trump for his role in the Ukraine scheme. But most Republicans disagree. They argue that the testimony and evidence presented so far doesn’t show that Trump withheld congressionally approved military aid to induce Ukraine to give him something of value in exchange — investigations of his political opponents.
I believe this argument rests on a willful refusal to honestly assess the facts (and disregards the withholding of a White House meeting entirely). But on Friday, Trump made it even harder for Republicans to deny the obvious in an interview with Fox News by once against making the link between the military aid and the investigations explicit.
Throughout the discussion, the hosts of “Fox & Friends” shifted uncomfortably, seeming to realize the president was just digging himself in deeper.
He began talking about the Democratic National Committee’s “server,” which Trump believes — as a part of an elaborate and debunked conspiracy theory attempting to exonerate Russia for its 2016 election meddling — is in Ukraine. On his infamous phone call on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump brought up this conspiracy theory when asking for the key part of the bribe, an investigation into the 2016 election.
“They gave the server to Crowdstrike, or whatever it’s called. Which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian,” Trump said over the phone to the Fox hosts Friday. “Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?” (Again, this server theory is completely debunked nonsense that not even House Republicans will defend.)
“Are you sure they did that?” asked host Steve Doocy, injecting a modicum of sense.
“Well, that’s what the word is,” Trump replied. “That’s what I asked, actually, in my phone call, if you know.”
Host Brain Kilmeade began looking nervous, tapping his fingers and trying to interject. “Right—” he said, but Trump didn’t let him cut in.
“I mean, I asked it very point-blank,” Trump continued. “Because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption. We’re looking for — why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption?”
So there it is. For all of the Republicans who say there isn’t enough evidence to conclude Trump was withholding the military aid to get investigations he desired — i.e., soliciting a bribe — the president just put the whole story together on national TV.
Republicans have said that Trump really just cared about fighting “corruption” in Ukraine, so his withholding of aid was a part of legitimate U.S. policy. But in the interview, he made clear that “corruption” to him just means the conspiracy theories that even the mainstream GOP won’t believe. And the 2016 investigation was always related, of course, to the second investigation Trump wanted of Vice President Joe Biden, which he has also referred to as being about “corruption.”
But no one credible thinks the problem of corruption in Ukraine is tied to Biden and the DNC. That’s only Trump’s warped version of corruption, which just happens to directly affect his personal political interests. And that’s the corruption that he thought could be addressed by the investigations he sought, which could then prompt the release of the hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid. In other words, it was a quid pro quo.
And yet, will any Republicans care that he just admitted to the whole bribery scheme on cable news? Probably not.
Remember, “Crowdstrike” is the conspiracy theory that Ukraine and the DNC framed Russia. Here’s President Trump again pushing this claim, supported by Republicans: that Russia is innocent, didn’t interfere in the 2016 election. Who did it? Ukraine and the DNC. pic.twitter.com/mmSjgKTQJq
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 22, 2019