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People are up in arms about allegations that President Trump's pressured Ukraine to reopening an investigation into Joe Biden.

My question is, why are the mainstream media and the people leading the impeachment inquiries ignoring the fact that Ukraine President Zelenskiy publicly stated that Trump didn't pressure him whatsoever? You can read more about this from Bloomberg News.

If the person supposedly being pressured says they are not being pressured, isn't that the best possible evidence? How could any investigation be more effective than the source itself at determining whether or not the situation was pressured? Why is this not getting any attention from either the news or the impeachment process? I would appreciate if someone could offer a rational reason for this.

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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a real answer. – Philipp Oct 23 at 22:30
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    I suggest changing the title to use "stated" instead of "admitted". There is a case for replacing "admitted" with "claimed", because national leaders never want to be seen to be pushed around by other countries, but I think the neutral term "stated" avoids judging whether the statement is to his advantage or disadvantage. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 25 at 0:51
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    @Philipp: I hope you don't mind if I ask this: politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4123/… – Fizz Oct 26 at 0:16
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I wouldn't necessarily say that the mainstream media is ignoring Zelensky's statement. (NY Times, Washington Post analysis, Fox News). However, he made the statement at the end of September, and it's now almost the end of October, so it's "old news". Unless something new happens to re-reference it, it's unlikely to still be covered by anyone.

That said, that still leaves the question of why the fact that he gave that statement is being discounted/ignored. This, however, would be pure speculation, and may be different for every person/organization. The two reasons that I can think of include:

  • People just didn't believe him. If someone is pressured to do X, it's easy to also pressure them to say they weren't pressured to do X.
  • People consider his opinion irrelevant. If someone is wrongly pressured but doesn't realize it, it's still wrong of the person doing the pressuring. Likewise, if a crime (abuse, fraud, rape, etc.) is committed, the government can prosecute it even if the victim says that nothing happened.

But either one, both, or neither may actually reflect someone's opinions.

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    There was also the issue that shortly after the news conference with Zelensky, the White House kind of stepped on the message by releasing the summary of the call, which reportedly surprised and upset the Ukrainians because of how Zelensky appeared in it (see politico.com/story/2019/09/26/… for example). My recollection of that news cycle was that Zelensky's statement was overshadowed so rapidly by the phone call summary that it was quickly dismissed, e.g. ecfr.eu/article/… – pago dat Oct 23 at 22:22
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    I think the other possible aspect worth acknowledging in "People just didn't believe him" is that "People believed he was OK with a quid pro quo", given that the very nature of quid pro quo involves an exchange. He does get what he wants by offering something even if it is under pressure, and could have understood the hypothetical implicit threat, and could have been OK with that. To publicly claim he is under pressure (iirc, the press conference had Trump literally next to him) is destructive to him. There's no need to PRESSURE him into saying he wasn't pressured (although possible). – DariM Oct 24 at 3:56
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    Another reason: norms of diplomacy. National leaders are not supposed to make statements that would obviously have an impact on the internal politics of another country. The president of Ukraine will have wanted to avoid saying anything that would put his US counterpart under pressure to resign. @DariM in other words, rather than being "OK" with the situation, he found it incredibly awkward, but wanted to keep the awkwardness quiet as much as possible. – phoog Oct 24 at 5:52
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    I saw a brief clip from the interview. It was indeed extremely awkward. My take was that the awkwardness arose in large part from Zelensky's desire not to say something damaging while sitting right next to Trump in a room full of attentive reporters. His body language and vocal inflections were those of someone who's saying something that isn't so, who knows that everyone in the room knows that it isn't so, and who is saying it anyway because, well, answering truthfully would be even more awkward. – phoog Oct 24 at 15:49
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    @BlackThorn fair point. Perhaps I should have written "... another country with which they are trying to maintain friendly diplomatic relations." – phoog Oct 24 at 17:11
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Given how Zelensky was willing to agree with everything that Trump was saying in that conversation, it shouldn't be too surprising that Zelenskiy agreeing with Trump in public too doesn't seem terribly genuine.

Zelensky was fawning to Trump to such an extent that EU decided to comment:

According to the White House’s rough transcript of the call, Trump said the United States has been “very very good to Ukraine” and slammed European countries for allegedly not doing enough, saying “Germany does almost nothing for you.”

Zelensky replied by saying Trump was “absolutely right. Not only 100 percent, but actually 1000 percent.” He praised Trump and went on to say he met both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and told them: “They are not working as much as they should work for Ukraine.”

Those comments were not well received in Europe.

“To say that I consider this to be incomprehensible would perhaps be a mild way to put it,” Elmar Brok, who was recently appointed special adviser on Ukraine for outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, told The Washington Post on Thursday.

Trump’s comments, Brok said, were “factually completely inaccurate.”

Brok pointed to a free-trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which he said has boosted Ukrainian exports to the E.U. in recent years. The United States has not struck a similar agreement with Ukraine.

Since 2014, the E.U. and European financial institutions have also mobilized more than $16 billion in loans and grants for Ukraine, E.U. officials said Thursday.

“In these five years, we have put together for Ukraine the largest support package in the history of the European Union,” Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela, a spokesman for the European Commission, said at a news conference. He declined to comment specifically on the July call between Trump and Zelensky.


Also, it's not entirely correct that "this is not getting any attention". When Zelensky declared (again) at a press conference on Oct 10 that there was "no blackmail", his statement received widespread coverage on that very day. And Zelensky's Oct 10 "no blackmail" statement was covered again more recently e.g. by the BBC on Oct 15 or in an Oct 23 article in NYT both in the context of impeachment. So while the press that does not dig Trump is not putting this on their front pages every day, they are not completely ignoring it either. But there are only so many times something like that is worth asking or worth reporting.

Of note is that in Zelensky's more detailed account, he says it wasn't blackmail because he personally didn't know at the time of the Trump call (July 25) that military aid was being withheld by the US. Zelensky maintains that he personally only found out about the aid being withheld on September 1.

On the other hand:

President Trump tells his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine at least a week before his phone call with Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, the Washington Post reports.

So yeah, it's possible for Zelensky to be truthful about not feeling blackmailed or pressured (assuming his account of when he found out about the aid being withheld is truthful) and, at the same time, it's possible that there was a [clumsy] attempt to blackmail him, but he just didn't get the (full) message (but only the Biden-investigation request part) on the phone call.


And more recently (Oct 24) AP reported that sources close to Zelensky related on condition of anonymity that he was worried of Biden-related pressure as early as May 7, before he even took office:

More than two months before the phone call that launched the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Ukraine’s newly elected leader was already worried about pressure from the U.S. president to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy gathered a small group of advisers on May 7 in Kyiv for a meeting that was supposed to be about his nation’s energy needs. Instead, the group spent most of the three-hour discussion talking about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for a probe and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the meeting.

They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has roiled U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

The meeting came before Zelenskiy was inaugurated but about two weeks after Trump called to offer his congratulations on the night of the Ukrainian leader’s April 21 election.

The full details of what the two leaders discussed in that Easter Sunday phone call have never been publicly disclosed, and it is not clear whether Trump explicitly asked for an investigation of the Bidens.

The three people’s recollections differ on whether Zelenskiy specifically cited that first call with Trump as the source of his unease. But their accounts all show the Ukrainian president-elect was wary of Trump’s push for an investigation into the former vice president and his son Hunter’s business dealings.

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    If Zelensky is agreeing with anything anyway, no pressure needs to be applied. Hence, this seems to be supporting evidence that there was no pressure. – Sjoerd Oct 23 at 23:06
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    @Sjoerd: in a funny way that is true (if the premise is true, that he really is agreeing with everything that Trump says and not just putting up a show). – Fizz Oct 23 at 23:07
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    @Sjoerd that he agreed to everything doesn't mean anything. Anyone who is under pressure of that sort would say that they're not under pressure. It's like those logic puzzles with one person who always lies and one who always tells the truth. You can't solve those puzzles by asking "are you the liar?" because the answer will always be no. – phoog Oct 24 at 5:59
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    Objection your Honor, calls for speculation. – K Dog Oct 24 at 15:20
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    @Sjoerd Not at all. That he would have agreed anyway doesn't mean they didn't pressure him regardless. Besides, even asking him for dirt on a political opponent is itself a problem. There doesn't have to be a "deal" to magically put us over the line. – Harabeck Oct 24 at 18:54
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To me, it's like accusing someone of pressuring someone else and the person supposedly being pressured says they are not being pressured

You seem to be missing the whole point of pressuring someone: to make them do what you want them to do. If someone is being held hostage, do you believe them if they say they're not being held hostage? Of course not. The testimony of the alleged hostage is actually the least reliable source.

The situation here is that we have clear evidence that the aid was held up to pressure Zelensky to take a certain course of action:

“Ambassador Sondland said that ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Mr. Taylor told lawmakers on Tuesday. “He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”

Ukraine Envoy Testifies Trump Linked Military Aid to Investigations

And we know that the Ukrainians knew about the aid being frozen:

But in fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

The problem was not a bureaucratic glitch, the Ukrainians were told then. To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the interviews and records.

Ukraine Knew of Aid Freeze by Early August, Undermining Trump Defense

Since we now know that the Trump Administration had leverage over Zelensky, it's easy to imagine that Zelensky would not have felt free to publicly attack the Trump Administration by stating that he felt pressured.

Since it's equally compatible with a situation where he is being pressured as a situation where his is not being pressured, Zelensky's statement really doesn't tell us anything.

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One word: MRDA, short for: Mandy Rice-Davies Applies.

MRDA, an abbreviation for Mandy Rice-Davies Applies, is Internet slang meaning "well he would say that, wouldn't he?" It is used to indicate scepticism of a claim due to the obvious bias of the person making the claim.

Wikipedia / MRDA (slang)

While giving evidence at Ward's trial, Rice-Davies made a famous riposte. When James Burge, the defence counsel, pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she dismissed the denial by stating, "Well (giggle) he would, wouldn’t he?"

Wikipedia / Mandy Rice-Davies

Fictitious example:

Zelenskiy denied being pressured by Trump or even having met him.

"Well (giggle) he would, wouldn’t he?"

The fact that Zelenskiy denies US pressure is non-news to begin with. What's his alternative? Admitting that an Ukrainian president does as the POTUS wishes?

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The allegation is that Trump withheld millions in aid until his requests would be fulfilled. As long as he remains president, he can still withhold that aid money at any time. Thus, if Zelensky thinks the aid is important, he still has to try and stay on Trump's good side in order to get it. That means saying whatever Trump wants with respect to this investigation.

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    Zelensky would be a first-hand source, however, he wouldn't be an objective one. If Zelensky declared, that he was being pressured, then he has little hope to be met with any favour in future interactions with a Trump-led US government. If Zelensky declared, he wasn't being pressured, then people might still be suspecting that he is withholding information to save his working relation with the Trump government. – Dohn Joe Oct 24 at 8:51
  • "As long as he remains president, he can still withhold that aid money at any time": is that actually true? Is the distribution of foreign aid left to the discretion of the executive, or is it dictated by the legislature? – phoog Oct 26 at 1:31
  • @phoog Congress decides what money to allocate, but executive cuts the actual checks. If they held it too long there would be controversy, but it's not clear how that would resolve. rollcall.com/news/… – Yozarian22 Oct 31 at 3:02
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From what I read, the interview occurred on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting; Trump and Zelensky were next to each other when the question was asked.*

Factually, there are two possibilities:

  1. There was pressure applied in some way, shape and form from the US government or anyone associated with it to the Ukranian government or anyone associated with it (case Y).

  2. There was no such pressure as described in 1 (case N).

Furthermore, Zelensky has three possibilities to answer, none of which is confined to one single possibility mentioned above (remember that humans are able to lie whenever they feel a lie benefits their goals, whether short term or long term, more than the truth):

  1. State that there was pressure.
  2. State that there was no pressure.
  3. Refuse to answer the question and talk about something completely different instead.

All of these three can be done with varying degrees of diplomatic embellishment.
For brevity, I will refer to these combinations as Y2, N3, etc.

It is also important to realise that nothing is said or done in vacuum, especially not in diplomacy (and this interview is very much in the field of diplomacy). Here, we have the president of a very powerful and rich nation next to the president of a much smaller, much less powerful and much poorer nation; furthermore, the latter has to deal with (Ukranian perspective) the annexing of part of its territory by a powerful neighbour and a war-like conflict in parts of his country closest to said powerful neighbour. The poorer country has received and very much depends on various forms of aid from the rich country and it is also very terrified of its powerful neighbour (Russia). Thus, no matter whether we are dealing with a Y or an N case, Zelensky will want to ensure the best possible relations with Trump.

Another diplomatic principle we need to consider is the idea of non-involvement in other countries’ internal issues (which admittedly is considered more important by some countries than others and a breach of which is considered more severe by some countries than others). Zelensky most certainly reads the news and was aware of the issues that were surfacing but has a motive to stay out of whatever is a US-internal issue.

Finally, note that Zelensky also needs to consider his message and the potential news at home which will also influence his answer.

Now let’s consider the individual cases.

  • N1: this would be a lie that does a disservice to the currently ruling government of an important ally. It would lead to immediate diplomatic problems between the two countries. Considering the amount of effort going into the impeachment investigations, this lie would have a high potential of being revealed as one, at which point it would be obvious that Zelensky violated the non-involvement principle which would backfire strongly for Zelensky and lead to even more severe problems. No Ukranian president in their right mind would choose this.

  • N2: This would stick to the truth. This truth would eventually be revealed and nobody would bat an eyelid any more. Zelensky would not have involved himself in US interna and at home he would not have to be seen as a weak president for giving in to the US.

  • Y1: This is a tricky one. It would be sticking to the truth which likely would eventually be revealed. However, it would risk immediate diplomatic repercussions from the US as their official government position is N. It would carry immediate domestic consequences as it would show that the Ukranian president is essentially a puppet that Trump can move around as he pleases. Whether or not this would be constructed as violation of the non-involvement depends; supporters of Trump would most likely be enraged. Thus, this combination would contain substantial risk for Zelensky.

  • Y2: This would be an answer that would please the US government strongly. It would be likely to carry a high short-term benefit for Ukraine. It would send the correct message, that the Ukranian president does not succumb to outside pressure, back home. While it would be likely for this lie to be revealed as one, the repercussions would be much less than in the N1 case—if there are any at all. As long as Trump remains president of the US, this would not lead to any damage in the US–Ukranian relations. It would be likely to be forgotten before a new US president takes office. It would be unlikely for the lie to do any lasting damage.

  • Y3/N3: These cases can be treated together. In general, this might be considered the diplomatically expected answer as it says nothing. However, saying nothing is also the diplomatically easiest way to affirm a difficult truth. Thus, it would be likely to have some negative diplomatic effect as it would be seen as a partial admission; however less so than cases Y1 or N1. In case N3, the US government would likely be especially unhappy since there should have been no reason for Zelensky not to go for N2. Domestically, these cases might also send the message that there had been pressure even if weaker.

All things considered, no cases of type 1 are especially likely in any way. On the other hand, both cases of type 2 afford an immediate short-term benefit. The cases 3 don’t afford much benefit but N3 seems unlikely given the benefits of N2—meaning an answer of type 3 is likely to be seen as Y3 and interpreted as such. Thus, answer type 2 is the best in most cases.

Political commentators across all media should know this as should those in Congress dealing with the impeachment process. Thus, the non-weight the statements are receiving is exactly the weight they should be receiving.

*: If someone can find a video recording or a full transcript for me, that would be great.

  • Zelensky has made more recent restatements, which were widely covered by the press. Google "Zelensky no blackmail". – Fizz Oct 24 at 14:27
  • Arguably, after choosing one answer it’s considerably more costly to change one’s position. – Jan Oct 25 at 2:26
  • +1 for applying game theory – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 26 at 16:53
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Pressure (or not) is Irrelevant

While a full-on quid pro quo would obviously be illegal, it's still illegal to ask for election help from a foreign government. There's no need (legally) to prove pressure or agreement to prove a crime took place. Those kinds of allegations are more subjective and harder to nail-down, given the vague nature of implied threats, sarcasm, and in-person private conversations.

As 19-year FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub explains:

It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.

https://twitter.com/EllenLWeintraub/status/1139309394968096768

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You seem to conflating President Trump with the US and, respectively President Zelenskiy with Ukraine. In reality heads of state rarely talk to each other unless there is diplomatic or political need. I wouldn't be surprised if that call was the first time Zelenskiy and Trump ever mentioned the US aid but that doesn't mean that US wasn't pressuring Ukraine (or that it wasn't). After all, there's a reason why the impeachment inquiry is focused on diplomats and staffers right now: because they are the actual people translating policy into concrete actions and pressure. Presidents don't become engaged directly until all other methods have been tried (or unless they have a personal relationship that makes these interactions more likely). It's possible that Trump simply mentioned his desire to his staffers and they then used the US diplomatic machine to apply pressure on Ukraine. It's also possible that Zelenskiy heard about the aid being withheld only after Ukrainian political machine had exhausted all other options to resolve the issue and/or discovered the order came directly from Trump. It's also possible that neither of these scenarios are true - this is what the impeachment inquiry is trying to determine. However, they explain how Zelenskiy can truthfully say that Trump never pressured him personally even if the pressure for Ukraine to open investigation into Biden existed.

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People are up in arms about President Trump's alleged political pressuring of Ukraine with respect to reopening an investigation on Joe Biden.

My question is, why are the mainstream media and the people leading the impeachment quest conveniently ignoring the fact that Ukraine President Zelenskiy publicly admitted that Trump didn't pressure him whatsoever?

Nope. People are up in arms about their president apparently (there is still the presumption of innocence) doing illegal, immoral stuff and potentially betraying the US. That's it.

That he may had to bribe Zelenskiy, or menace him, or Zelenskiy agreeing on its own will is not relevant at all unless you are trying to imply that, for example, if the president pays a killer to shot a political opponent there is no crime unless the killer needed to be pressured into it.

So, bottom line: (apparently) the US president has tried to deprive the US population of their rights for democracy, and in doing so he fully defied the basic principles of US constitutions. That's the issue everyone is focused on.

Then, sure, the fact that he may (again, the jury is still out) have used national resources for its own personal gain is worsening his position, but that's just a side thing.

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    I'm afraid that this doesn't answer the question being asked. – apgov Oct 24 at 10:25

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