Yesterday, one of my closest friends – whose political views often do not coincide with mine (not at all uncommon in my circles) – informed me that Gordon Sondland said President Trump insisted on a “quid pro quo”.
I answered that a) what he said was related to “something else” besides the accusation of foreign aid in return for investigating the Bidens, b) Sondland never said Trump told him that, and c) in fact, Trump told him the opposite.
I don’t recall for sure (it was a friendly conversation and it moved on), but may also have pointed out, as I often do here, that putting strings on foreign aid is nothing new, it happens all the time – and that, if Trump demanded an investigation take place, regardless of whether Joe Biden’s son was involved, it was little more than admittedly unseemly presidential “business as usual”, but far from an impeachable offense.
Put another way, if the impeachment criterion is asking foreign governments to do things that cast them in a better light/make them look good/strengthen their position, which President wouldn’t be on the chopping block?
In any case, since my friend is a very intelligent, very thoughtful guy, I feel his point deserves a more detailed response. so I am putting up excerpts from a chronology/analysis by Fox News’s Howard Kurtz (no fan of Trump’s), who has laid out the specifics very well. Here are the highlights (the bold print is mine):
Sondland confirmed that the president told him Ukraine “tried to take him down” in 2016. He said he and his colleagues “weren’t happy” when Trump said they had to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine.
He said Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney and Rick Perry were kept briefed, citing an email that they were copied on six days before Trump had the famous call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. In that message, Sondland explained that he “just talked to Zelensky” and got him to commit to the “fully transparent investigation” that Trump wanted.
In case there was any ambiguity, Sondland said they all understood what Trump wanted in exchange for the call and a possible meeting with Ukraine’s president. “Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma.” The latter is the Ukrainian company that gave Hunter Biden a lucrative job.
Sondland did say Trump never directly told him a Zelensky meeting was conditioned on a Ukrainian announcement of investigations, but that Rudy did—and for the ambassador, it was “two plus two equals four.”
Trump, for his part, seized on one part of Sondland’s testimony to say “it is all over.”
The president challenged the “fake news” to report that he told the ambassador late in the game that “I want nothing, want no quid pro quo, tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
So what do we have here?
We have Sondland saying that, based on a conversation with Rudy Giuliani – not Trump – he understood President Trump wanted an investigation in exchange for him meeting with Zelensky. Except:
-Trump himself never said this to Sondland;
-The alleged “quid pro quo” was for a meeting with Zelensky, not foreign aid;
-And the only words Sondland ever heard from Trump himself were that “I want nothing, want no quid pro quo, tell Zelensky to do the right thing.” – the exact opposite of Sondland’s assumption.
Not a very compelling case for that quid pro quo allegation, is it?
And – again, one more time – even if there were a specific quid pro quo – launch an investigation to get the foreign aid and/or the meeting – so what? Is that really worth an “impeachment inquiry? An actual impeachment?
I mean, it’s not like Trump was withholding $1 billion in aid unless the President of Ukraine fired a prosecutor investigating a company where his kid – with no experience in the industry, no ability to speak the language and no need to ever show up – was on the Board of Directors and being paid millions for absolutely nothing other than being his kid, or that Trump was caught on a hot mike telling the President of Russia that, after the election, he’d have “more flexibility” to work with him.
Now those would be worth launching an inquiry over, wouldn’t th…..oh, wait.