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U.S.A. NEWS Donald Trump’s Quid Pro Quo Is Now a Smoking Gun


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U.S.A. NEWS Donald Trump’s Quid Pro Quo Is Now a Smoking Gun

Mr. Trump’s own acting envoy, William Taylor, described how the president tried to force Ukraine to advance his political interests.By Jesse WegmanMr. Wegman is a member of the editorial board.Oct. 22, 2019William Taylor arriving on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated PressIf Tuesday’s congressional testimony by William Taylor, the acting United States envoy to Ukraine,…

U.S.A. NEWS Donald Trump’s Quid Pro Quo Is Now a Smoking Gun

U.S.A. NEWS

Mr. Trump’s own acting envoy, William Taylor, described how the president tried to force Ukraine to advance his political interests.

U.S.A. NEWS Jesse Wegman

Mr. Wegman is a member of the editorial board.

Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

If Tuesday’s congressional testimony by William Taylor, the acting United States envoy to Ukraine, is to be taken at face value — and no one in the Trump administration has yet denied a word of it — then it is now beyond doubt: President Trump placed his personal political future above the national-security interests of the United States. He did so at the expense of longstanding foreign policy, a critical international alliance and the stability of the global order — and he used hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do it.

The nation has known the basic outlines of this story for weeks, thanks to the bravery of a C.I.A. whistle-blower and others. But in 15 pages, Mr. Taylor laid out with a stunning degree of detail the extent of Mr. Trump’s effort to extort Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son over supposed corruption.

You know it’s bad for the president when the only response the White House can muster is to sidestep the testimony and complain instead about “a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”

Would that be the same Constitution that Mr. Trump referred to, in part, as “phony” just this week? Also, “radical unelected bureaucrat” is a curious way to describe Mr. Taylor, who currently serves as Mr. Trump’s acting envoy to Ukraine and is a retired career civil servant and Vietnam War veteran who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

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Mr. Taylor described to lawmakers how, after agreeing to take over as interim head of the United States Embassy in Ukraine last spring, he soon realized something was very wrong. There were “two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.” The regular one was what it had long been: support, with bipartisan backing in Congress, for Ukraine against Russian aggression from the east. The irregular one was a concerted effort, led by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, to get Ukraine to investigate purported corruption by Mr. Biden and his son, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 United States election.

There is no evidence to support the first allegation, and the second has been thoroughly debunked by the American intelligence community. But Mr. Trump doesn’t care about details like that — he is hungry to damage Mr. Biden and he wanted Mr. Zelensky to state publicly that there would be a thorough investigation. He dangled two carrots: a White House visit and nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid that the United States had promised to Ukraine for its war with Russia.

Mr. Taylor’s alarm bells went off when, shortly before one call with Mr. Zelensky, Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, said he didn’t want most of the normal interagency participants to be on the line, and didn’t want anyone monitoring or transcribing the call.

Later, Mr. Taylor said, Mr. Sondland told him that “everything” — the White House visit and the military aid — depended on Mr. Zelensky’s willingness to start a high-profile, public investigation. That sure sounds like a threat to withhold money unless Mr. Zelensky did the president’s bidding — what sticklers might call a quid pro quo. Mr. Trump has denied this, repeating “no quid pro quo” as though it were a magical incantation. After reading Mr. Taylor’s testimony, I don’t think that phrase means what the president thinks it means.

(Even some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest defenders are starting to recognize how serious this is. In an interview with “Axios on HBO” that aired Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”)

What comes through most clearly in Mr. Taylor’s written testimony, which he supplemented with oral testimony to three House committees behind closed doors, is the sheer shock that an American president would be so reckless with both human lives and international relations, all for his own political gain.

Mr. Taylor laid out the real-world stakes of Mr. Trump’s decision to play politics with Ukraine’s military aid. He recalled a visit to the front lines in eastern Ukraine that he and Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, made in late July, from where they could see armed Russian forces gathered on the other side of a bridge. “Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance,” he wrote.

There are two stories to tell about Ukraine, Mr. Taylor said. One story, the bad one, involves whistle-blowers, back channels and quid pro quos. The other is a positive one — about “a young nation, struggling to break free of its past” and eager to “enjoy a more secure and prosperous life.” Mr. Taylor might have added that there are also two American stories — one in which politicians use foreign policy to maneuver for domestic advantage, and one in which there is bipartisan support for fledgling democracies that share our values and there are diplomats who devote their lives to delivering on that support.

In that America, there should be no room in the Oval Office for someone like Donald Trump.

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