I’ve heard from a few readers about yesterday’s post, asking why I didn’t include the parts of Ambassador Sondland’s testimony that help the Republican case, rather than only the damaging parts. The two main reasons were: 1. Space and time constraints, and 2. I don’t believe any of his testimony actually helped the Republican case.
But Republicans believe it did; I appreciate my readers’ feedback, and I do want this blog to be fair to both sides. So today I’ll summarize the GOP arguments from yesterday, and give you my take on them.
If you don’t have time to watch this clip (it’s 3.5 minutes) I’ll summarize: Rep. Jim Jordan (R) asks Ambassador Sondland when the public announcement Trump had requested of Zelensky took place. Sondland answers that it never did happen. Jordan lays out the quid pro quo claims Sondland made earlier in his testimony: that Ukraine was told they had to make that public announcement in order to get a White House call, a White House meeting, and the military aid they were promised. Jordan says that since Ukraine did end up getting the call, the meeting (not at the White House, but in New York) and aid was released, but Zelensky never made the public announcement, that there was no quid pro quo.
Again, this is like if the white nationalist who tried to blow up a temple in Colorado recently were to claim he’s innocent because the bomb never went off.
Trump suspended aid to Ukraine. This isn’t in dispute. He made clear to Ukraine that he wanted a public announcement. Multiple witnesses have testified to this under oath. The release of the aid, the call with VP Pence, and the meeting in New York did not happen until after the whistleblower report was filed and three Congressional committees announced a joint probe into the matter.
He got caught. The bomb he planted didn’t go off.
Jordan also gets Sondland to admit that Trump never explicitly told him that the aid was tied to an announcement.
This is like a mugger pointing a gun at you, saying “Give me all your money,” then later in court saying, “I never said anything about shooting him!”
The President made it clear what he wanted, both in direct communication with Sondland and others, and through Rudy Giuliani. That he never said aloud, “I am extorting Ukraine,” is hardly exonerating.
Jordan makes a point of saying that in fact, not only did the President not link the aid to an announcement, he explicitly told Sondland the opposite. He read this exchange from Sondland’s own testimony about his September 9 phone call with Trump twice:
[Sondland:] “What do you want from Ukraine?”
The President: “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.”
Yes, on September 9th, President Trump said to Ambassador Sondland, “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo.”
September 9th was the day the Inspector General informed the House Intelligence Committee Chair and Ranking Member (Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes) of the whistleblower complaint. The complaint that raised concerns about Trump pressuring Ukraine for a quid pro quo to benefit himself politically.
Friends, this does not make him look more innocent. It looks shady as all get out.
That phone conversation with Sondland took place because of a text Sondland received from Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor. Taylor wrote, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Four and a half hours later, after his phone call with the President (during which Sondland testified that Trump was in a bad mood—now we know why), Sondland responded with the text that included the words, “The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s [sic] of any kind.”
Everything the President did and said up until September 9th screamed quid pro quo. Then Congress found out about the whistleblower report. Since then, he’s been shouting “NO QUID PRO QUO!” at the top of his lungs, as though the act of saying it makes it real. He’s Michael Scott, bellowing “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!”
Now I’ll try to quickly address a few other process complaints I’ve heard:
“This testimony is hearsay; it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.” This isn’t a court of law; it’s a Congressional hearing. Congress can question witnesses however it likes—and can ruin their lives if they commit perjury.
“Gordon Sondland committed perjury.” Debatable. I haven’t taken the time to try to fact check everything in his testimony. But his testimony yesterday lines up with what we’ve heard from other witnesses.
“The witnesses have no firsthand evidence.” This is just false. We’ve already heard from Lt. Col. Vindman, who was on the July 25 call which prompted the whistleblower report. Sondland was in direct communicaton with the President.
“There’s no clear statement of what the crime is. Quid pro quo? Extortion? Bribery?” I agree that Democrats are flubbing this. The clear crimes are abuse of power, extortion, and obstruction of justice. They need to drop bribery.
“This is totally partisan! A real crime would get bipartisan support for investigation.” In an ideal world, yes. But Republicans have proven that they will defend anything this man does. They’re terrified of a mean tweet.
“Republicans can’t call their own witnesses.” Mostly false. They can subpoena witnesses, but Schiff gets to approve or deny them. He’s the Committee Chair. Them’s the breaks. Two years after Trump won, Americans gave the House back to the Democrats. We’re all learning that elections have consequences.
“Where’s the whistleblower? Trump has the right to face his accuser. Bill of Rights! The Sixth Amendment!” *Sad sigh.* “What do they teach them at these schools?” Fine. Here, the Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions—” There. That’s as far as we need to go. This isn’t a criminal prosecution so the Sixth Amendment doesn’t apply.
“This is nothing but a kangaroo court.” *More sad sighs.* Here’s the definition of that term: “An unofficial court held by a group of people in order to try someone regarded, especially without good evidence, as guilty of a crime or misdemeanor.” Yes, this is not a court. But it’s the Congress of the United States. It’s anything but unofficial. And there is good evidence. There is a growing mountain of evidence.
My Republican friends can take heart, though: while Trump will almost certainly be impeached by the House, Republicans control the Senate. They’ll be calling the shots in the trial. And it takes a 2/3 vote in the Senate to remove an impeached President. It will take a miracle (i.e. internal polling that indicates Mitch McConnell’s seat is in jeopardy if he doesn’t convict) to get this Senate to remove him.
A dear friend asked me recently, “Are you not even open to the possibility that those bringing the charges have political motives?”
Yes, of course they have political motives. But their motives are irrelevant if the charges are true.
I’d like to paraphrase his question to all my Republican friends: Are you not even open to the possibility that those defending him from these charges have political motives?