Best headline for today: GORDON SONDLAND THROWS TRUMP, GIULIANI UNDER THE BUS (BACKS UP, DOES IT AGAIN). And in the Washington Post, Amber Blake explains the eight ways in which Gordon Sondland’s testimony torpedoes Republican defenses of Trump. I won’t repeat their points, but will give my take on where we stand today.
A Clarifying Hypothetical
Let me pose a hypothetical, contrary to fact. Assume that the evidence, take as a whole showed the following: Trump, directly or through intermediaries, conveyed this message to the Ukrainians: “You can have your military aid, as appropriated by Congress, in full and on time. But you also want a meeting with me in the Oval Office. And, to get that meeting, your president must first publicly announce that he is investigating (1) my batshit crazy theory about purloined Democratic servers, hidden away in Ukraine, and (2) allegations that Joe Biden took money from corrupt Ukrainian oligarchs. You do not have to take any followup steps, but you do have to announce publicly that you intend to investigate these charges, which you must claim to take seriously. If you do that, you will get your White House meeting.” Assume further that the military aid does flow, on time and in full.
Bad but Not Impeachably Bad?
In recent days, we have been schooled in the technicalities of the law of bribery. And, with the benefit of this technical analysis, we can see that, in my hypothetical, one might indeed discern all the elements of bribery. But would it be easy to argue—persuasively, to a skeptical public—that my hypothetical is quite bad enough to warrant impeachment?
Sure, it’s different from Clinton’s perjuring himself about how often he unzipped his pants. Sure, my hypothetical describes conduct that may be felonious, but so was Clinton’s conduct.
It’s the Military Aid, Stupid
No, I submit that what pushes the Trump situation over the impeachability line is the callous indifference to dying Ukrainians—the withholding of military aid for no good reason.
Republicans have four choices:
- they can keep on telling a fairy tale about the military aid,
- they can make the bad-but-not-impeachably-bad argument,
- they can defend the withholding of military aid to extort bogus investigations as morally right and proper, or
- they can give the conclusory answer, “We think no impeachable offenses were committed” and then just shut the hell up, manfully refusing any further explanation or rational debate.
All the choices are bad for them. At the end of the day, I think the last choice—make a conclusory statement, shut up, and refuse all further discussion—is the least bad from their perspective, so that’s where they will probably go in the end.
But right now, they want to keep on telling their fairy tale.
Three Questions to Answer
Republicans have three questions to answer:
- Why was the military aid put on hold, in the first place?
- Why was it finally released? And,
- Why was it released when it was released—two days after the scandal broke in public?
As to the first question: Republicans want to answer that it was put on hold because a general concern of Ukrainian corruption. But the July 25 “transcript” that Trump himself released is inconsistent with that fable.
As to the second question: some Republicans have floated the myth that people knowledgeable about Ukraine talked Trump around to the view that Zelinsky was a “good guy.” But there is no evidence at all to support the claim.
And if there were any such evidence, it would be found amount the thousands of documents that Trump is hiding from the House. As Miss Nancy said, if Trump has some exculpatory evidence, cough it up.
As to the third question, I have not even heard a pathetic attempt to explain the timing of the release, or to rebut the obvious conclusion that Trump released the aid on September 11 because he was caught.