As long as we’re using Latin legal jargon to explain Donald Trump’s odd adventures in Ukraine, there’s an even better phrase than quid pro quo. It’s cui bono, which translates roughly as “who benefits?”
As any reader of crime novels knows, if somebody wins $2 million in the lottery and then mysteriously drops dead, the first thing the cops want to know is who gets the money.
And the answer regarding Ukraine is the usual one where Trump’s concerned: Vladimir Putin. Trump’s groveling before the Russian strongman evokes satirical laughter on Moscow TV. Joe Conason quotes a Russian talk-show host: “Have you lost your minds that you want to remove our Donald Ivanovych?”
On another channel, Trump’s depicted singing while Putin plays the piano.
But why Ukraine? The reason’s twofold. The Russian dictator seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, earning international economic sanctions and getting himself expelled from the G8. Soon afterward, Putin invaded the nation’s eastern provinces, starting a civil war that has cost 13,000 Ukrainian lives.
It’s to defend his country from Russian tanks that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy desperately needed U.S. military aid, approved by Congress but withheld by Trump to blackmail him into interfering in a U.S. presidential election. Trump not only demanded a (pardon me) trumped-up probe of Joe Biden, an opponent he seemingly fears; he wanted a live announcement on CNN.
Seemingly without his knowledge, national security adviser John Bolton ordered the funds released. We’ll find out for sure what Trump knew if/when Bolton testifies, as he appears itching to do.
But that’s just half of the corrupt “favor” Trump demanded of Ukraine’s recently elected president. The other half?
Do what the president says: Read the transcript.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike,” Trump insisted. “... I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
According to Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony, the ellipses represent not incomplete sentences but deletions. Even so, Trump’s references to “CrowdStrike,” wealthy Ukrainians and the supposedly missing DNC server are unmistakable references to a nutball conspiracy theory cooked up either on the far-right fringes of the internet or by the Kremlin itself — assuming for argument’s sake that those are different things.
See, if Ukraine’s president could locate the mythical lost computer server, all of Trump’s problems would be magically solved: It would prove that it was Ukrainian operatives and not Russians who interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Who stole DNC emails and hid the evidence in a remote cave in the Carpathian Mountains. Somewhere in Ukraine, anyway.
And the infinitely cunning Hillary Clinton was behind the whole thing.
This is the bizarre fable Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen have been peddling in Kyiv while trashing the reputations of American diplomats sensible enough to point out that it’s, well, totally insane.
So crazy you’d think even an intellectually challenged victim of senile dementia would be skeptical.
But no. White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney: “Did he (i.e. Trump) also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”
The president himself hints Hillary’s deleted private emails might be there too. “I still ask the FBI, ‘Where is the server? How come the FBI never got the server from the DNC? Where is the server?’” he whines.
Think of it: Chelsea Clinton’s wedding cake secrets, coffee dates, yoga sessions.
Alas, here’s the problem: There is no missing server, nor ever was.
The DNC hired CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm located in Sunnyvale, California, not Kyiv, to investigate its security breach. (One co-founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is an American born in Russia, not in Ukraine. He graduated from Georgia Tech.)
CrowdStrike’s investigation compiled data from a reported 331 separate servers and computers. It made exact forensic copies, which it subsequently shared with the FBI —the only such evidence that has ever existed. The company and intelligence agency investigators independently reached the same conclusion: The Russians did it.
In short, every word Trump, Giuliani and company have said since the president’s bizarre 2018 Helsinki news conference with Putin — the one where he cowered like a frightened dog — has been absolute, abject nonsense.
Repeat: No hidden server exists for President Zelenskiy to find. No ark of the covenant, no Holy Grail, no Trumpian magic beans.
It’s sheer make-believe.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner. You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.