Groundbreaking reporting on what was happening in Zelensky’s administration as Trump’s extortion scheme unfolded
We are so fortunate to have a free press with the resources and determination to uncover the truth. The NYT has taken a deep dive into the upper echelons of the Ukrainian government to find out how they reacted as Trump was shaking them down. This is a fascinating piece – and somewhat hard to summarize, but here are some highlights. Note that everything the NYT uncovered in the Ukraine corroborates and adds to what we know about how the Trump administration was coordinating the shakedown on this side of the Atlantic.
It was early September, and Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, faced an agonizing choice: whether to capitulate to President Trump’s demands to publicly announce investigations against his political enemies or to refuse, and lose desperately needed military aid.
Only Mr. Trump could unlock the aid, he had been told by two United States senators, and time was running out. If the money, nearly $400 million, were not unblocked by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, it could be lost in its entirety.
In a flurry of WhatsApp messages and meetings in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, over several days, senior aides debated the point. Avoiding partisan politics in the United States had always been the first rule of Ukrainian foreign policy, but the military aid was vital to the war against Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has cost 13,000 lives since it began in 2014.
By then, however, Mr. Zelensky’s staffers were already conceding to what seemed to be the inevitable, and making plans for a public announcement about the investigations. It was a fateful decision for a fledgling president elected on an anticorruption platform that included putting an end to politically motivated investigations.
Talk about a “buried lede”! “Only Mr. Trump could unlock the aid, he had been told by two United States senators…” WTF? This casual aside contains a bombshell. Were two Senators also aiding and abetting Trump’s extortion scheme? Does the NYT know the names and will they be following up on this story?
… Elements of this internal Ukrainian debate have appeared in the Ukrainian news media and seeped into congressional testimony in the United States, as part of an impeachment inquiry undertaken after accusations surfaced of Mr. Trump’s demands.
But interviews in Kiev with government officials, lawmakers and others close to the Zelensky government have revealed new details of how high-level Ukrainian officials ultimately decided to acquiesce to President Trump’s request — and, by a stroke of luck, never had to follow through.
A tug-of-war ensued between a senior aide to Mr. Zelensky, Andriy Yermak, and another of Mr. Trump’s envoys to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, over the wording of the proposed public statement. Mr. Volker went so far as to draft a statement for Mr. Zelensky that mentioned both investigations.
Mr. Yermak pushed back, suggesting language that mentioned investigations but in general terms, so as not to antagonize the Democrats. Late in the negotiations, the American diplomats consented to dropping mention of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Even as Mr. Yermak negotiated the wording in August, the stakes were clear. While rumors had been swirling for months about a possible hold on military aid, by early August high-level Ukrainian officials had confirmed the freeze.
The trade soon became explicit. They were approached in September by Mr. Sondland, a major donor to Mr. Trump’s inauguration who had been appointed ambassador to the European Union despite having no diplomatic experience. At that point, he explained in blunt terms to Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Yermak, there was little chance the aid would be forthcoming until they made the public statement on the investigations.
Trump keeps trying to make this all about “one perfect phone call,” but the testimony in the inquiry along with this reporting of what was happening in Ukraine makes it abundantly clear that this was a big, complex scheme involving many players and detailed, extended negotiations. This extortion was orchestrated on a grand scale.
Another important point: This article makes it clear that rumors about the aid being withheld were “swirling for months” before the July 25 phone call. Trump supporters are saying Zelensky didn’t know the aid was being withheld before the call so there couldn’t possibly be a quid pro quo. That’s simply not true. We know that Zelensky at least had a pretty darn good idea the aid could be withheld – that fear and doubt is plenty ammunition to use in an extortion scheme.
Nearly all Mr. Zelensky’s top advisers favored his making the public statement, said one of the officials who participated in the debate. United States military aid, they agreed, as well as diplomatic backing for impending peace talks to end the war outweighed the risks of appearing to take sides in American politics.
But there was a lone holdout — Alexander Danyliuk, the director of the national security council. Mr. Danyliuk, who resigned in late September, told the Ukrainian news media that the Zelensky administration would now need to “correct the mistakes” in relations with the United States and “in particular their own.”
Finally bending to the White House request, Mr. Zelensky’s staff planned for him to make an announcement in an interview on Sept. 13 with Fareed Zakaria, the host of a weekly news show on CNN.
Wow – Maybe this was common knowledge, but I didn’t realize the scheme had developed to the point where a specific CNN show on a particular date had been lined up for Zelensky’s pay off to the extortion (which never happened because the lid was blown off the scheme). Has anyone seen any reporting if Zakaria has commented on this?