Quids and pro quos

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

It’s fair to say at this junc­ture that Amer­ica’s Quid and Ukraine’s Quo have been caught in bed to­gether.

The fevered search for a damn­ing quid pro quo since the White House re­leased a read­out of Don­ald Trump’s July 25 tele­phone call to Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky — in which Trump re­quested an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Joe Bi­den and his son, Hunter — has proved pro­duc­tive.

A se­ries of text mes­sages pro­vided to Congress by for­mer U.S. Spe­cial En­voy for Ukraine Kurt Volker ir­refutably shows a clear quid pro quo. Full stop. Con­trary to White House as­ser­tions, the con­gres­sion­ally ap­proved mil­i­tary aid that Trump was uni­lat­er­ally with­hold­ing at the time (and an in­vi­ta­tion to the White House) was be­ing used as lever­age for push­ing Ze­len­sky to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Bi­dens.

In a 2018 speech be­fore the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, Bi­den re­counted telling for­mer Ukrainian pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko in De­cem­ber 2015 that the U.S. would with­hold a $1 bil­lion loan guar­an­tee if then-Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral Vik­tor Shokin wasn’t re­moved from of­fice. It was be­lieved by both Amer­i­can and Euro­pean of­fi­cials at the time that anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts had be­come slug­gish un­der Shokin.

Said Bi­den: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leav­ing in six hours. If the prose­cu­tor is not fired, you’re not get­ting the money.’ Well, son of a b---. He got fired. And they put in place some­one who was solid at the time.”

Bi­den’s diplo­matic tri­umph seemed to come at a pro­pi­tious time for Burisma Hold­ings, a nat­u­ral gas com­pany for which Hunter Bi­den was serv­ing as a board mem­ber. This po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est is the ba­sis for Trump’s con­sum­ing ob­ses­sion with the Bi­dens and Ukraine.

Burisma had been un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but for ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore Hunter Bi­den joined the com­pany’s board in 2014. In­deed, it was un­der Shokin that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the com­pany stalled. In 2015, the U.S. Am­bas­sador to Ukraine de­cried Shokin’s lag­gardly at­ten­tion to cor­rup­tion through­out the coun­try, and Shokin’s ouster was greeted by West­ern diplo­mats as a vic­tory.

Most, if not all, of what Trump thinks he knows about the Bi­dens and Ukraine has come from his per­sonal at­tor­ney, Rudy Gi­u­liani, who re­port­edly has been all over the map, from Madrid to War­saw to Paris, work­ing back chan­nels and coax­ing Ukrainian pros­e­cu­tors to in­ves­ti­gate a con­spir­acy com­men­su­rate with the pres­i­dent’s ap­petite for same.

Gi­u­liani’s con­clu­sion and, there­fore, Trump’s, is that the Bi­dens were in ca­hoots to is­sue $1 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees in ex­change for Shokin’s fir­ing, thus putting an end to the Burisma in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Judg­ing from Wash­ing­ton Post in­ter­views with some of these pros­e­cu­tors — and with other Ukraine ex­perts — it’s pos­si­ble that Gi­u­liani was be­ing fed in­for­ma­tion by Ukrainian of­fi­cials that may or may not have been true as a means of cur­ry­ing fa­vor with Gi­u­liani (and by ex­ten­sion Trump), thereby en­hanc­ing their own po­lit­i­cal sta­tus within Ukraine’s power struc­ture.

Such byzan­tine cal­cu­la­tions re­mind us that quids and quos come in a wide va­ri­ety of fla­vors and tex­tures, some tastier than oth­ers.

So far, no strong ev­i­dence has emerged that the Bi­dens did any­thing wrong, but the op­tics aren’t pretty for Joe or his son. Per­haps Hunter was just a guy and who was naive (or proud) enough to be­lieve that he was tapped for the Burisma board on his mer­its.

Maybe he re­ally be­lieved that the fact that his fa­ther was then vice pres­i­dent of the United States and the point man for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Ukrainian pol­icy — push­ing for in­creased gas pro­duc­tion while with­hold­ing mon­e­tary back­ing un­til Shokin was fired — had noth­ing to do with any­thing at all.

But it’s at least as likely that Hunter was know­ingly prof­it­ing from his fa­ther’s po­si­tion. He was paid as much as $50,000 a month to sit on the board of a com­pany in an in­dus­try in which he had no ex­pe­ri­ence. And he got the job just as his fa­ther was urg­ing Ukraine to in­crease its gas pro­duc­tion.

Per­cep­tion is ev­ery­thing in pol­i­tics, colum­nists tend to say about now. De­pend­ing upon one’s pol­i­tics, Trump’s lever­aged “fa­vor” may not seem any worse than Bi­den’s threat to with­hold loan guar­an­tees un­til an­other of­fi­cial was fired. But there is a dif­fer­ence.

What Bi­den sought had in­ter­na­tional back­ing, and the loan guar­an­tees were al­ways tied to anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures. What Trump did jeop­ar­dized our global diplo­matic po­si­tion and put Ukraine’s fu­ture in peril — all for per­sonal po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. Trump’s abuse of power has in­vited crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion and im­peach­ment.

Couldn’t hap­pen to a nicer guy.

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