This is the day when it became damn near impossible for any serious Republican lawmaker to deny that there was a clear quid pro quo proffered by President Donald Trump and his administration to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky regarding an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
That tipping point happened around 2 p.m. Eastern Tuesday, when House investigators released the transcript of their closed-door interview with US Ambassador to the European Union (and Trump 2016 donor) Gordon Sondland. And, in particular, the three-page(!) amendment to his original testimony that Sondland filed.
In that addendum, Sondland said he remembered — after testifying that he didn’t know why security aid to Ukraine was being held up — a conversation with a top aide to Zelensky on September 1 “where I said resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
It was always virtually impossible to believe that the Ukrainians were unaware that the holdup in nearly $400 million in US security aid was due to Trump’s stated urging — in the transcript of the July 25 call between the two presidents — that Zelensky open investigations into the Bidens as well as the debunked conspiracy theory that the hacked Democratic National Committee server might be in Ukraine.
But now it becomes totally clear that there was a stated quid pro quo from Sondland to a top Ukrainian official. While it’s important to note that Sondland’s admission doesn’t directly implicate Trump — it’s not clear where Sondland got the clear sense of the aid holdup being tied to the public announcement of the investigations — it does make it totally impossible for GOP lawmakers to say there was no understood quid pro quo.
Because whether Sondland was told by Trump or personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani or anyone else in the administration that the aid would only flow once the investigations were announced, it’s beyond dispute that Sondland, a senior US diplomat, made that assertion to the Ukrainians. So, whether it was coming from above, the Ukrainians had every reason to believe the quid pro quo was a fact.
It’s also impossible now for Republicans to continue to hide behind the idea that all of these allegations are false claims made up by Never Trumpers. Sondland donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and had been a supporter of the President.
Where do Republicans turn now? It’s very hard to see them turning against Trump — particularly given that the White House isn’t giving an inch. “Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he ‘did not know, (and still does not know) when, why or by whom the aid was suspended,’ ” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid—but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption.”
My guess for the next step for GOPers? Acknowledge that Sondland proposed a quid pro quo but say a) he was acting based on a mistaken belief that that was what the White House wanted and b) even if there was a quid pro quo in his administration, that’s no reason to impeach the President.
The Point: It wasn’t easy for Republicans to defend Trump on Ukraine before today. Now? Whoa boy.