The Slatest

Trump Knew There Was a Whistleblower When He Suddenly Released Military Aid to Ukraine

President Trump looks at the telephone on his desk in the Oval Office out of the corner of his eye.
The Oval Office telephone is just waiting to get thrown under the bus. Win McNamee/Getty Images

A large part of the Republicans’ defense of President Donald Trump’s quid pro quo demand of the Ukrainians is that he just put a teensy-weensy hold on nearly $400 million in military assistance in order to solve the country’s corruption problem and then, several months later, casually lifted the hold allowing the money to go through. No big deal, the GOP says, and even if it was a big deal, the quid pro quo didn’t work out, so no harm no foul. It’s an intellectually and legally bankrupt defense, but that’s how short on ideas the party is when it comes to concocting ways to defend the indefensible. To make the GOP’s argument even more ludicrous, the New York Times reports that Trump was made aware of the whistleblower complaint before he lifted the hold on military aid in early September.

To recap, the still-anonymous C.I.A. officer-turned-whistleblower submitted a complaint to the inspector general in mid-August about Trump’s rogue operation to get Ukraine to open an investigation involving the Bidens. In late August, according to the new Times reporting, Trump was briefed on the fact that a whistleblower had come forward, principally about his phone call with the Ukrainian president roughly a month before. The White House counsel’s office said it then briefed Trump as part of its efforts to determine whether it had to inform Congress, which has oversight of such intelligence matters, about the whistleblower complaint. Then, in a matter of a week or two, reports of Trump’s effort to block aid to Ukraine begin to surface in the press, as Congress announces it will investigate the matter. And, lo and behold, at that very instant, Trump, suddenly, decides to lift the two-monthlong hold on the aid!

The Republican talking point that Trump bungled the quid pro quo, so there’s nothing to see here, is a fabrication. He got caught! It’s not like he just opted not to carry out the plan. He got busted in the act! He cooked up a likely criminal scheme. Someone reported the crime-in-progress to the proper authorities, who began to investigate. The jig was up. There is no defense. It’s like a cop stopping a robbery in process and the robber claiming in court that because he was caught in the act, before he could complete the act and get away with the money, he didn’t actually get to commit the crime. It’s that ludicrous. But that’s the defense Republicans are now using.