January 25, 2020 -In today’s argument from the White House, the President’s attorneys made six claims that have been debunked repeatedly, and they ignored the vast majority of evidence presented by the House. These claims and brief responses are set forth below. The following can be attributed to a democratic staffer working on the Senate trial.
CLAIM #1: There was no quid pro quo on the July 25 call because President Trump did not explicitly condition military aid or the White House meeting on the announcement of the investigations.
RESPONSE: President Trump would like to ignore the overwhelming evidence that he engaged in a scheme over many months to hold up aid to Ukraine and the White House meeting as leverage to get Ukraine to conduct investigations to help him politically. The July 25 call was an important part—but only part—of that scheme.
- President Zelensky mentioned both the security assistance—“great support in the area of defense”—and the Javelins, which President Zelensky indicated Ukraine was prepared to purchase with their own money. President Trump’s explicit request for “a favor” immediately followed those references.
- President Trump immediately responded with his own request: “I would like you to do us a favor though,” which was “to find out what happened” with alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. He then mentioned an investigation into the Bidens. President Trump explicitly raised and repeated these two requests during the call.
- As President Zelensky was instructed to do right before the call in a message relayed directly from President Trump, President Zelensky explicitly linked a potential White House meeting with the investigations President Trump mentioned. President Trump only then reiterated his invitation for a White House meeting.
- The July 25 call is an important piece of evidence, but far from the only evidence related to the months-long scheme. Documents show that, on two occasions, President Zelensky was prepared to discuss the quid pro quo for the White House meeting on the call— July 19 and July 25—and that the pressure for the investigations increased after the July 25 call. President Trump’s defense does not consider those documents and that evidence.
- Fact Checking the White House’s Claim that There Was No Quid Pro Quo: https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221095396581289986
CLAIM #2: President Zelensky and other Ukrainians publicly said they never felt pressured to open investigations.
RESPONSE: Ukraine’s security and democracy depends on support from the United States. President Zelensky said privately that he did not want to be involved in U.S. domestic politics but ultimately relented and scheduled an announcement of the two investigations on CNN.
- Ambassador Sondland testified that on September 1, he personally delivered a message to President Zelensky’s aide, Andriy Yermak, that Ukraine would not receive the assistance unless Ukraine announced the investigations. It defies logic that Ukraine would not have felt pressure.
- The Ukrainians were repeatedly rebuffed in their request for President Zelensky to visit the White House, they knew the security assistance was frozen, and President Zelensky even prepared to give in to President Trump’s pressure campaign and make the desired public announcement on CNN. The only reason he didn’t was because the President got caught before it happened.
- On July 20, the Ukrainian national security advisor expressed to Ambassador Taylor that President Zelensky “did not want to be used as a pawn in a U.S. reelection campaign.”
- As State Department official David Holmes testified:
“Whether the hold—the security assistance hold—continued or not, Ukrainians understood that that’s something the President wanted, and they still wanted important things from the President. And I think that continues to this day. I think they’re being very careful. They still need us now going forward. In fact, right now, President Zelensky is trying to arrange a summit meeting with President Putin in the coming weeks, his first face to face meeting with him to try to advance the peace process. He needs our support. He needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelensky at the highest levels. So this doesn’t end with the lifting of the security assistance hold. Ukraine still needs us, and as I said, still fighting this war this very day.”
- In September, Zelensky agreed to a CNN interview and planned to announce the investigations. He abandoned the interview only after President Trump released the aid.
- In an implicit acknowledgement that he continues to perceive a lack of U.S. support, President Zelensky recently said, “I don’t trust anyone at all.” He still is awaiting the Oval Office meeting President Trump promised in April 2019, which he asked about again at his meeting with President Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
CLAIM #3: Ukraine did not know President Trump was withholding security assistance until it was disclosed publicly in late August 2019.
RESPONSE: According to multiple witnesses, Ukrainian officials knew President Trump placed a hold on security assistance soon after it was ordered in July 2019. Regardless, no one disputes that everyone found out and Ukraine soon relented to President Trump’s demands before the President got caught.
- Defense Department official Laura Cooper testified that her staff received two e-mails from the State Department on July 25 revealing that the Ukrainian Embassy was “asking about security assistance” and that “the Hill knows about the FMF [foreign military financing] situation to an extent, and so does the Ukrainian Embassy.”
- The former deputy foreign minister of Ukraine stated publicly that top Ukrainian officials, including President Zelensky’s office, learned of the hold no later than July 30, but were told to keep it confidential.
- Career diplomat Catherine Croft stated that she was “very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterparts’ diplomatic tradecraft, as in to say they found out very early on or much earlier than I expected them to.” She got two separate inquiries from Ukrainian officials who wanted to keep it confidential because it would be damaging to their position with Russia if it became public.
- Lt. Colonel Alex Vindman testified that, by mid-August, he was getting questions from Ukrainians about the status of security assistance. He testified that “it was no secret, at least within government and official channels, that security assistance was on hold.” He went on to say that, “to the best of my recollection, I believe there were some of these light inquiries in the mid-August timeframe.”
- Regardless, the President does not—and cannot—dispute that Ukraine was desperate to receive the military assistance and felt so much pressure after it became public that President Zelensky ultimately relented and agreed to make the announcement.
- Fact Checking the White House’s Claim that Ukraine Did Not Know About the Withheld Aid Until It Was Publicly Reported: https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221101165917691904
RESPONSE: The President’s attorneys do not dispute that the White House meeting was conditioned on the investigations. Multiple witnesses also testified that there was a quid pro quo for security assistance, and that President Trump confirmed that directly.
- On September 7, President Trump called Ambassador Sondland, denied a quid pro quo, and then outlined the very quid pro quo he wanted from Ukraine. He told Ambassador Sondland that President Zelensky should “go to the microphone” and announce the investigations and should “want to do it.”
- Ambassador Sondland then called President Zelensky and said if President Zelensky did not “clear things up in public,” they would be at a “stalemate,” and the security assistance would not flow.
- White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confessed to the President conditioning the aid on October 17, 2019, stating: “Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. … And that’s why we held up the money.”
- Ambassador Sondland mentioned the quid pro quo for the security assistance to Secretary Pompeo in an email on August 22 and to Vice President Pence on September 1, and neither of them disputed that understanding.
- State Department official David Holmes and Ambassador Sondland testified that, in the absence of a credible explanation for the hold and the ongoing quid pro quo related to the White House meeting, the only logical conclusion was that security assistance was intended to pressure Ukraine to announce the investigations. As they stated: “It was as clear as 2+2 = 4.”
- Contemporaneous documents corroborate the quid pro quo. For example, in a text message to Ambassador Sondland, Bill Taylor said: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
- Fact Checking the White House’s Claim that Tim Morrison’s Testimony Exonerates the President: https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221099539064664064
CLAIM #5: Security assistance funds ultimately were released, and the meeting with the President happened on September 25.
RESPONSE: The President released the security assistance only after he got caught, and he still has not given President Zelensky the White House meeting.
- President Trump released security assistance for Ukraine that Congress appropriated with overwhelming bipartisan support only after his scheme was exposed.
- The independent Government Accountability Office concluded that the President violated federal law by withholding this security assistance from Ukraine.
- Even the existence of the hold had a significant impact on Ukraine’s ongoing war against Russia. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified: “the signal that there is controversy and question about the U.S. support of Ukraine sends the signal to Vladimir Putin that he can leverage that as he seeks to negotiate with not only Ukraine but other countries.”
- President Trump met with President Zelensky on September 25 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, but the critical Oval Office meeting still has not happened to this day. In fact, President Zelensky asked about the White House meeting during the meeting with President Trump at the United Nations, proving that President Zelensky did not view them as equivalent.
- Numerous witnesses testified that a White House meeting is not the same as another presidential meeting. State Department official George Kent testified: “New leaders, particularly countries that are trying to have good footing in the international arena, see a meeting with the U.S. President in the Oval Office at the White House as the ultimate sign of endorsement and support from the United States.” He also testified that, for President Zelensky, a meeting in the White House “would primarily boost his leverage to negotiate with Vladimir Putin about the Russian occupation of 7 percent of Ukrainian territory.”
- Fact Checking the White House’s Claim that Using the White House Meeting as Leverage Doesn’t Matter, Because President Trump met with President Zelensky at the UN: https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221105708516675585
- Fact Checking the White House’s Claim that President Trump Did, In Fact, Invite President Zelensky for a White House Meeting: https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221130965201948672
CLAIM #6: President Trump strengthened support for Ukraine in 2017.
RESPONSE: If that is true, then it proves that there was no legitimate reason for the hold. The only difference between 2017 and 2018, when there were no issues with releasing the aid, and 2019 when it was held, is that Joe Biden announced he was running for President.
- If President Trump is a stronger supporter of Ukraine than prior presidents, then it simply proves the House Managers argument that there is no legitimate policy reason for holding the aid. Instead, the aid was held in order to pressure Ukraine to announce the investigations that could smear the President’s political opponent.
- In 2017 and 2018, when Ukraine had a president considered to be soft on corruption, President Trump released the aid without incident. In 2019, after Ukraine elected an anti-corruption reformer as president, President Trump held the military aid. The only differences in 2019 were that Vice President Joe Biden announced his candidacy for president and Special Counsel Mueller announced his finding that the Trump Campaign welcomed election interference from Russia.
- President Trump’s hold on security assistance directly jeopardized Ukraine’s efforts to combat Russian aggression. Ukraine is engaged in an active war against Russia, and U.S. military assistance is critical to these efforts. Thousands of Ukrainians have died in the war with Russia, and more die each week.
- President Trump released the aid that Ukraine desperately needed for its war on Russia only after he was caught.
- Fact Checking the White House’s Claim that President Trump was Fighting Corruption in Ukraine: https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221112846349750274 and https://twitter.com/HouseIntel/status/1221111832720683008