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Trump probe builds evidence of ‘quid pro quo’

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Washington, United States | AFP | The House of Representatives is investigating whether President Donald Trump has built a growing case that he put pressure on Ukraine for domestic political ends.

Here are key facts that we know at this point:

– The ‘favor’ call –

Trump on July 25 spoke by telephone with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who had been seeking a meeting.

The White House on September 24 released the conversation, in which Trump tells Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor,” and asks him to work with his personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Trump in the phone call points to the paid position held by former vice president Joe Biden’s son in a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, as well as unfounded conspiracy theories that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election — not Russia, as concluded by US intelligence.

– Military aid frozen –

There is little dispute that the Trump administration delayed military aid to Ukraine, which it had committed to help the country fight Russian-backed separatists.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who worked on Ukraine for the National Security Council, said he became aware on July 3 that $400 million in assistance was being held up.

The freeze first became public in an August 28 article by Politico. Several days later, the aid was released under pressure from a prominent Democratic senator.

Pentagon official Laura Cooper testified that the Ukrainian embassy had reached out on July 25 to ask about the aid, indicating that Kiev was aware of delivery issues at the time Zelensky spoke to Trump.

– ‘Quid pro quo’ –

The key issue is whether Trump set up a “quid pro quo” — Latin for seeking one action in exchange for another — in which Ukraine was expected to investigate Biden.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, testified that Trump issued orders that he would not meet with Zelensky until Ukraine publicly announced an investigation.

Sondland said he also understood that the aid was being held up for the same reason.

Another US diplomat, David Holmes, said he overheard a conversation in which Trump asked Sondland — who called the president by mobile phone from a Kiev restaurant — about seeking an investigation by Zelensky.

– The Republican defense –

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, denouncing what he calls a witchhunt aimed at undoing his election.

Trump’s Republican allies say that there was no wrongdoing as the aid was eventually released.

They also say there is no evidence that Trump personally tied aid to the investigation, with Sondland under questioning acknowledging that, while he concluded there was a link, Trump did not tell him so explicitly.

Democrats have scoffed at the Republican defense, saying it is unimaginable that Trump would openly admit to wrongdoing and that crimes are punishable even if unsuccessful.

Even if the Democratic-led House of Representatives impeaches Trump, it is far less likely that the Republican-controlled Senate would follow up by removing him from office.

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