In a Friday interview on "Fox & Friends," President Donald Trump openly admitted to holding up military aid to Ukraine to pressure the government to investigate a baseless conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election interference and Democratic collusion.
In other words, Trump acknowledged doing the very thing he has repeatedly denied and will likely be impeached for.
The president started off by referencing the broad outlines of the conspiracy, suggesting Ukraine is hiding a Democratic National Committee "server" that contains evidence of Ukrainian meddling.
Then, crucially, he tacked on: "We're looking for corruption, there's tremendous corruption, and why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries where there's this kind of corruption?"
In a Friday morning interview on "Fox & Friends," President Donald Trump admitted to holding up military aid to pressure Ukraine's government to investigate a baseless conspiracy that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
In other words, he acknowledged doing the very thing he will likely be impeached for and has repeatedly denied.
"They have the server, right from the DNC," Trump said, referring to the conspiracy theory, which suggests Ukraine is hiding a mysterious Democratic "server" that contains incriminating evidence of Ukrainian interference and Democratic collusion.
"The FBI went in and they told them, get out of there. They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever its called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian," Trump said. "And I still want to see that server. The FBI's never gotten that server, and it's a big part of this whole thing, why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?"
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy appeared to anticipate the path Trump was going down and asked incredulously, "Are you sure he did that?"
Trump replied, "Well, that's what the word is."
Then, critically, the president added, "We're looking for corruption, there's tremendous corruption, and why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries where there's this kind of corruption?"
There is no evidence supporting this conspiracy theory, and in fact, the former National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified this week that the conspiracy theory is part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
More importantly, in less than a minute, the president admitted to conditioning critical military aid to Ukraine on the country launching the politically motivated investigation he wanted.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
What Trump is being investigated for
This acknowledgment gets to the crux of the impeachment inquiry, which is focused on whether Trump abused his power by using his public office for private gain.
At the center of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over the latter's involvement in the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings. Trump also asked Zelensky to look into the conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Since details of the call first emerged in a whistleblower complaint, over a dozen witnesses have testified in the impeachment inquiry, and their revelations show the call was just one data point in a months-long campaign by Trump and his allies to strongarm Ukraine into publicly committing to launching the investigations Trump wanted in exchange for vital military aid and a White House meeting.
The campaign was spearheaded by Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has made public statements in the mainstream media about his efforts for months.
Several career national security and foreign service officers have testified that this "irregular" channel of Ukraine policy also consisted of others, including:
Gordon Sondland, the US's ambassador to the EU.
Kurt Volker, the US's former Special Representative to Ukraine.
Rick Perry, the outgoing energy secretary.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
Sondland, who testified in an open hearing on Wednesday, said "everyone," including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton, and the president himself, were "in on it." Sondland added that he worked with Giuliani on the matter "at the express direction" of Trump.
A cascade of witnesses destroyed Trump's defenses one by one
Trump's allies, meanwhile, have trotted out a slew of defenses in the wake of the snowballing inquiry, but they've grown weaker in the face of overwhelming testimony from non-partisan officials, many of whom spoke out in defiance of the White House's direct orders.
The president has relied primarily on two defenses to shield himself:
His interest in launching the investigations was legitimate because he wants to eradicate corruption.
A transcript of his first phone call with Zelensky, which occurred in April shortly after Zelensky won the election, undercuts this point because the president made no mention of corruption.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, testified this week that he was concerned because the president raised none of the foreign policy talking points that had been prepared for him in either the April or July calls.
And Sondland testified that Trump just wanted Zelensky to announce the investigations: "He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it."
Ukraine didn't know about the freeze in security assistance at the time of the July 25 call, so there was no way Zelensky could have felt pressured by Trump.
Trump's allies have leaned hard on this talking point, saying that the hold in aid was first publicly reported by Politico in late August, more than a month after the phone call.
But Laura Cooper, a deputy secretary at the Pentagon, blew up that defense this week when she testified that there were three separate inquiries — two from Ukrainian officials and one from Congress — about the hold-up on the day of the July 25 call itself.
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