Congress has released text messages between top U.S. diplomats referencing attempts by the Trump administration to force Ukraine to investigate both Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and the 2016 election. Though legal and national security experts have confirmed the seriousness of this evidence, Fox News figures insisted there was no evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement or claimed that there was such evidence but that the interaction was nevertheless “entirely appropriate.”
On October 3, three Democratic House committee chairmen released dozens of text messages showing communication among American diplomats William Taylor, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker, who were assigned to Ukraine and the European Union, among others. As NPR reported, several of the text messages conditioned a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on his government helping to “‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016,” an apparent reference to a debunked conspiracy theory meant to absolve Russia of interference in the presidential election. NPR also reported that some of those texts were about laying the groundwork for President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky in which he repeatedly urged Ukraine to investigate Biden, his possible rival in the 2020 election. Trump, who has repeatedly denied that he engaged in a quid pro quo, has since publicly called on Ukraine to investigate Biden.
Some of the text messages strongly suggested that military aid was used as leverage to get Ukraine to cooperate with Trump’s demands for investigations. News reports have revealed that Trump ordered that military aid to Ukraine be withheld shortly before his call to Ukraine’s president.
Legal commentators have emphasized that these text messages clearly show that Trump demanded investigations in exchange for favors. NBC News legal analyst Glenn Kirschner wrote on Twitter that the texts “prov[e] an illegal quid pro quo” and should spur an FBI investigation. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said of the texts: “It’s great evidence. It’s a prosecutor’s dream. … This builds the case that there was an exchange, a bribery, a quid pro quo, whatever you want to call it.” CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa explained: “In legal terms, we would call this ‘duress.’ You're placing someone under duress, under pressure to be able to do something in order to get something they urgently need or want.”
Volker denied that there was quid pro quo during his testimony before Congress on October 3, claiming that “at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.” But as New York University law professor Ryan Goodman pointed out on Twitter, Volker was contradicted by a May 9 story in The New York Times that described Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani planning a meeting with the Ukrainian president as “part of a monthslong effort by the former New York mayor and a small group of Trump allies” to, among other things, potentially “damage Mr. Biden, the early front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.”
Yet Fox News figures are saying there was no quid pro quo -- or claiming that there was, but it’s “entirely appropriate.”
Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy: It’s “not only normal, it’s entirely appropriate” for Trump to ask Ukraine to help investigate the 2016 election. “There’s always quid pro quo when foreign countries deal with each other.”
Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth: Congressional testimony showed “it wasn’t about a quid pro quo at all.”
Fox chief national correspondent Ed Henry: “It’s very clear from that exchange that at least one of the diplomats is saying no, no, no, the president’s not tying these two together, let’s be clear. … Are the Democrats going to look at this fairly and look at the whole picture, or are they going to try to prove a narrative that they believe to try to impeach him?”
Fox Business anchor Melissa Francis: “It says right here, there’s no quid pro quo.”