Oct 4, 2019

Friday Special Edition: Leaked Text Messages Add To Ukraine Story

Friday Special Edition: Leaked Text Messages Add To Ukraine Story

Plus, that "eat the babies" lady was a hoax.

Today’s read: 4 minutes.

Reminder: Tangle usually hits your inbox Monday through Thursday, unless there is some news that just has to be covered. Typically, I cover the day’s news from both sides, answer a reader question, summarize a smattering of important stories, and send you off with some good news. Today’s special Friday Tangle is abbreviated. Last night, a couple of items popped up I thought were worthwhile: newly revealed text messages between Ukrainian-U.S. diplomats and a bizarre town hall meeting with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’ll see you back here on Monday.


What D.C. is talking about.

Last night, a batch of text messages between U.S. diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide were released by the House Intelligence Committee. The text messages reveal how the diplomats were trying to organize a meeting between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump. The texts surround the controversial phone call between Trump and Zelensky, in which the president asks Zelensky to investigate the Biden family and dig deeper into the 2016 election interference. That phone call is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry.

What Democrats are saying.

The text messages back up all their claims. On the morning of the phone call, Kurt Volker, who was then serving as the Special Envoy for Ukraine, made sure Ukranian aides understood that Zelensky needed to tell Trump an investigation into the 2016 election would happen. "Heard from the White House -- assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington," Volker said via text to the Ukrainian adviser on the morning of July 25. Trump wanted Zelensky to look into a fringe conspicracy theory about a wealthy Ukrainian who is allegedly in possession of the Democratic National Committee’s server which was hacked in the 2016 election. Conservatives push the theory to allege that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in 2016 (The New York Times untangles the theory here). The texts also reveal that at least one senior U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, believed that the U.S. was holding Ukraine’s security assistance in exchange for Zelensky to announce that he would investigate Burisma (the company Hunter Biden sat on the board of) and the 2016 election. "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?" Taylor texted US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. "Call me," Sondland responded.

What Republicans are saying.

To Trump loyalists, the text messages reveal that Trump is trying to get to the bottom of the 2016 election. In their mind, it’s Democrats who don’t want that to happen, because they were the ones who were acting shady and creating trumped-up charges of Russia collusion. Many Trump supporters have stock in the theory that Ukraine was actually involved in helping Clinton during the 2016 election, and they’re happy to see Trump was earnestly exploring it. Others are keeping the focus on the whistleblower, Adam Schiff, or justifying why Trump wanted to move transcripts of his calls to a classified server — because they keep leaking. Many Republican members of Congress are also insisting that the transcripts of their behind-closed-door testimony with Volker be released to the public. Those members of Congress say Volker’s testimony, which took place yesterday morning, will punch holes in the Democrats’ theory. In some circles, the texts do seem to have moved the needle. Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, co-founders of the right-wing Daily Caller website, posted a strongly worded op-ed criticizing Trump in the wake of the text messages released. “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.” The op-ed does go on to accuse Obama’s FBI of trying “to crush Trump in the last election” and argues there was no quid-pro-quo and the call does not “rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

My take.

I’m not sure the texts could be any clearer. You can read them for yourself here. The diplomats involved in organizing a Trump-Zelensky White House meeting and the phone call seemed to be crystal clear on the fact Trump wanted Zelensky to open an investigation into Burisma and say he would look more into the 2016 election. The president meeting Zelensky was conditional on those things happening. Whether foreign aid was at stake is still up for debate, but it’s clear there was something “there.”

To me, this rises to the level of quid-pro-quo. It’s not the quid-pro-quo Democrats initially claimed (foreign aid in exchange for the investigation into Biden), but it’s pretty damn close. Pretending the terms weren’t understood by Trump or Zelensky’s side now is absurd, even if the terms weren’t expressly laid out in the phone call. Clearly, the aides here were ironing out the deal before and after Zelensky and Trump spoke. I’m not sure how someone could argue otherwise. The real question — which House Democrats and Senate Republicans now have to grapple with — is whether this is an impeachable offense.


It appears the new Ukrainian prosecutor is going to fulfill Trump’s request. In a breaking New York Times report, Ukraine’s top prosecutor said “he would audit several important cases previously handled by his predecessors, including a criminal case involving the owner of a natural gas company that employed a son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.” Click.

Baby eater.

Last night, a video of an Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez town hall quickly went viral. In it, a woman is seen warning Cortez that because the planet is warming so fast, we need to start eating babies to preserve it. The woman was fearful of climate change and her solution was eating children. AOC, clearly uncomfortable in the moment, suggested that the woman calm down and told her we had time to solve the climate crisis. Conservative media immediately jumped on the video, which — to me, at least — was obviously absurd on its face. Ryan Saavedra, a right-wing reporter, shared the video on Twitter. It moved through the ecosystem up to Tucker Carlson, who played it on Fox News. Then Donald Trump Jr. shared it, and eventually the president — who called AOC a “whack job.”

As it turns out, the “AOC supporter” in the video who is allegedly unhinged about climate change is actually a member of the LaRouche PAC. The LaRouche PAC is a fringe political activist group that was born out of the life work of Lyndon LaRouche, a cultish political figure who used to run (and lose) for various offices as a Democrat. The LaRouche PAC has in recent years taken a strong pro-Trump stance and the activist in the video was actually a pro-Trump plant who was there to make AOC look bad. Of course, none of the reporters who fell for the stunt are admitting it now. I tried (and failed) to get Saavedra and a few other prominent conservative journalists to correct the record on Twitter:


See you next week.

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