President Trump has repeatedly claimed that there were no “quid pro quos” in his push for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s family. But now the exact quids and quos of the pressure campaign are clear, following the release of text messages related to the scandal.
On Thursday evening, House Democrats released texts from Trump’s top diplomats in the region that revealed the scrambling that ensued to ensure that Ukraine met Trump’s expectations that the country dig up dirt on one of his leading rivals.
The exchanges showed that there were concrete “deliverables” — as a Trump donor-turned-ambassador called them — that Ukraine was being pushed to offer Trump, in exchange for phone calls and meetings with the President, as well as the release of military aid.
Those deliverables were public and private promises to investigate the launch of the investigation that would become the Mueller probe — which Trump allies allege originated as a Democratic-Ukraine plot to target him — and to probe a Ukrainian natural gas company where Biden’s son sat on the board.
Here are the quid pro quos that were being discussed:
The quid: Trump gets on the phone with Zelensky.
The quo: Zelensky convinces Trump he’ll open “investigations.”
In the days before President Trump had his fateful July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Trump appointees in charge of managing relations with the country were stressing the need for Zelensky to assure Trump on the call that he’ll open the investigations Trump was seeking.
The discussion came after Kurt Volker, the Trump-appointed special envoy to Ukraine, had breakfast with Rudy Giuliani that morning.
“Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation,” Volker texted Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, a businessman who previously donated $1 million to his inaugural committee.
Volker resigned last week and was interviewed by the House on Thursday, ahead of which he turned over the texts.
On July 22, Giuliani spoke to Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak — who had been connected to Giuliani by Volker. By that evening, Giuliani was now “advocating” for Trump to speak to Zelensky on the phone, according to Volker’s texts to Sondland.
Volker pointed out that the fact that Giuliani was in favor of the call was a message they could bring to then-National Security Advisor John Bolton and White House chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney.
The day before the call Volker still wasn’t sure whether it would happen, according to his testimony.
On the morning of the Trump-Zelensky call, Volker stressed to Yermak the need for Zelensky to promise to Trump he’ll open up the investigations, in order to get the White House to commit to a Zelensky meeting in Washington.
The quid: White House sets up Zelensky visit.
The quo: Zelensky announces Biden/2016 probes in “statement.”
After the July 25 Zelensky call — during which Trump brought up both a Biden probe and an investigation into a “Crowdstrike” 2016 conspiracy theory — the State Department officials were optimistic that the White House would move forward with a visit from Zelensky.
But, according to the texts and Volker’s congressional testimony, as part of the public announcement of that visit, Zelensky would need to issue a “statement” outlining new investigations the country was launching, including into Burisma, the natural gas company with Hunter Biden on its board.
Giuliani proposed the statement idea to Volker and told Volker he also discussed it with Yermak, according to the Volker testimony.
Volker suggested to Giuliani that that they — along with Sondland — hop on the phone with Yermak to discuss what the Zelensky statement should say.
Later that day, Sondland told Volker that Tim Morrison, a National Security Council aide, was ready to nail down dates. Sondland said that Trump “really wants deliverable” when asked what got the White House on board with locking down the meeting.
Minutes later, he suggests that to “avoid misunderstandings,” they get from Yermak a “draft statement” on what Zelensky will say during the announcement of his White House visit.
The next day, referring to the phone conversation Yermak had with the State aides the day prior, Yermak told Volker that Zelensky is willing to make the statement, but they want the confirmation of the meeting date first.
“One we have a date, will call for a press briefing announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations,” Yermak said.
On Aug. 13, Volker and Sondland discuss the contours of the draft again, and Volker reiterates the need to invoke both Burisma and the 2016 election.
Yermak provides Volker a draft of the statement on Aug. 16 and that version includes no mention of the 2016 elections or Burisma according to Volker’s testimony.
On Aug.17, the State Department aides discussed how to handle the next steps on the statement.
According to reporting by CNN, Volker and Sondland showed the Ukraine-written draft to Giuliani who didn’t Giuliani didn’t think it went far enough, without the references to 2016 and Burisma. However, Ukraine would not agree to the addition of those references and the idea was dropped.
The quid: Trump unlocks security assistance
The quo: Zelensky “interview”
By the beginning of September, other parts of the U.S. government had become aware of the pressure campaign on Kyiv.
The famous-and-yet-anonymous intelligence community whistleblower submitted his complaint on Aug. 12, and it began to wind its way through the bureaucracy of the Intelligence Community Inspector General and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In parallel, the pressure campaign was continuing. In August, reports had begun to filter out that Trump had blocked security assistance to Ukraine, citing unspecified concerns around corruption.
But the texts show that U.S. diplomats in Kyiv had registered the delay.
On Sept. 1, Bill Taylor — a career diplomat and the acting U.S. chief of mission in Ukraine — wrote a message to Sondland asking, “are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”
Sondland — the politically appointed ambassador to the EU — replied “call me.”
All the while, the Trump administration was withholding $250 million in security aid that Congress had already appropriated for Ukraine. $50 million of that was lethal aid, including small arms and other weapons systems designated for the Ukrainian army.
But, according to the texts, it may have been a mysterious “interview” that played a role in holding up the delivery of the security assistance.
On Sept. 8, the group chat roared back to life.
Sondland asked the “guys” — Volker and Taylor — if they could speak so he could brief them on “multiple convos” involving Zelensky and Trump.
After the conversation, Taylor messaged the group that “the nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)
It’s not clear from the House documents or the context what “interview” Taylor was referring to in the message. Separate reporting has suggested that Volker, Sondland, and Giuliani had drafted a statement for Zelensky in August, in which he would have pledged to probe the Biden-linked and conspiracy theories around the origins of the Mueller investigation.
Later that same day, Taylor reiterated to Sondland that he was “counting on” him to “be right about this interview.” Tayler later added that he thought it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland rebuked the acting chief of mission, saying “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind” before concluding “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
One day after the exchange, the House announced its investigation into Giuliani’s pressure campaign. That same day, the inspector general told the House Intelligence Committee that it had received the whistleblower complaint which would later spark an impeachment inquiry.
The Trump administration released the aid to Ukraine on Sept. 11, two days later.
Update: This story has been updated to include details from Volker’s written testimony to Congress.