It was less than a week ago when Republicans were telegraphing an audacious new defense of President Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme. The whole caper, they were prepared to argue, had actually been masterminded by Gordon Sondland. The hotelier and foreign-policy novice, handed a plush ambassadorship to the European Union as a reward for a donation, had somehow gone out of his lane and taken over Ukraine policy from a cadre of experienced professionals — all without Trump’s knowledge or permission.
Sondland “made a presumption,” Ohio representative Jim Jordan told the media. “There is no direct linkage to the president of the United States,” added North Carolina representative Mark Meadows.
The sole advantage behind this fantastical explanation was Trump’s well-established, mob-like aversion to note-taking. The president would literally scream at anybody who took notes in his presence, leaving him plausible deniability when his subordinates carried out his frequently unethical or illegal orders.
Yesterday, however, William Taylor testified that a member of his staff heard Sondland, in Kiev on a cell phone, speaking with President Trump, and that Trump asked about Ukraine opening “investigations.” After the call, Sondland told the staffer, David Holmes, that Trump’s highest priority in Ukraine was securing an investigation of the Bidens. Today, the Associated Press reports a second staffer, Suriya Jayanti, also heard the call. “The President doesn’t care about Ukraine,” said Sondland, according to CNN, which obtained Holmes’s testimony, “He only cares about the big stuff – the big stuff that benefits him. You know, like investigating the Bidens.”
It turned out this plan had a fatal flaw. Trump speaks very, very loudly and is also irresponsibly lax about operational security. Holmes will testify that he could hear Trump’s voice because he spoke so loudly, Sondland had to to hold the phone away from his ear. Reporters who have previously experienced Trump phone calls confirmed that his voice is distinctly audible to people standing several feet away from the recipient of his call:
Republicans devoted much of the first day of hearings to repeating the charge that the witnesses were relying on “hearsay.” And it is true that Taylor and George Kent, the other first-day witness, communicated through other officials who conveyed Trump’s orders to them. (The White House has refused to make Trump himself, or any of the officials who did speak with him, available for testimony.)
But it is not “hearsay” when officials are following expressly communicated orders through a chain of command. And it’s certainly not hearsay when somebody literally hears the boss say the order.
This post has been updated.