President Donald Trump has hitched a large part of his defense in the impeachment inquiry on the notion that there was never any “quid pro quo” in his dealings with Ukraine. (Even though there doesn’t have to have been a direct quid pro quo for Trump to have committed a crime or abused his power.) On Twitter, the president has made “no quid pro quo” a rallying cry, similar to previous incantations of “no obstruction” and “no collusion.” He has also repeatedly said publicly that there “is no quid pro quo” and—with one major exception—“no quid pro quo” has become the mantra of his defenders in the administration and in Congress. Testimony from the top U.S. diplomat to the Ukraine, Bill Taylor, was released on Wednesday that makes crystal clear just how untenable that defense is about to become.
As recently as Sunday, the president was tweeting that there was “no quid pro quo” in response to a Washington Post report that some Republican senators were considering acknowledging a “quid pro quo” in the face of mounting evidence. The new plan would be to argue that there was a secret quid pro quo that had been denied for weeks, but that it was of the totally legitimate quid pro quo variety. Trump was having none of it:
The latest chants of “no quid pro quo” come as House impeachment investigators have started to release public testimony of those who implemented Trump’s Ukraine policy. What they’re saying is: There was a quid pro quo!
This corresponds with what had already been made public about the testimony, but it’s still remarkable to see how directly administration officials are willing to describe what happened as a “quid pro quo.”
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, for instance, was Trump’s government point person on Ukraine. On Tuesday, it was revealed that he had amended his testimony to acknowledge that he told the Ukrainians that “resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided” announcements of investigations that directly implicated Trump’s political rivals.
Sondland’s role had been revealed in text messages and in the testimony of, among others, Taylor. On Wednesday, House investigators released Taylor’s testimony and it included perhaps the most astonishingly plain acknowledgment of a quid pro quo yet. In response to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s question about whether or not he understood security assistance to Ukraine and a sought-after meeting between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky to be “conditioned on the investigation,” here is how Taylor responded:
So what Trump was allegedly asking was the “literal” definition of a “quid pro quo.” Again, this has been plain for weeks, but to hear it spelled out so cleanly by one of the principal witnesses—let’s just say it’s not great for the president’s case that there was “no quid pro quo.”
You can read Taylor’s 324-page testimony, in which he describes the alleged quid pro quo, in greater detail here. Or, as Schiff announced on Wednesday, you can watch him testify again—this time publicly—before Congress in one week.