Gordon Sondland, the European Union ambassador who had been pressed into service as President Trump’s Ukraine hatchet man on account of his political pliability, testified earlier this month that while he knew President Trump was withholding a meeting with Ukraine’s president as leverage for investigations of Trump’s domestic rivals, he did not know military aid to Ukraine was also held up. But then acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified that Sondland repeatedly told him that both the meeting and the aid were contingent on the investigations.
So this week Sondland returned to the House and “refreshed my recollection,” as he put it. Or, as Lieutenant Gerard would put it, he changed his bullshit story.
Sondland now confirms that the aid was being withheld as part of Trump’s extortion. Sondland now recalls having said exactly this on September 1 to a top adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. This, by the way, blows up a favorite talking point in the conservative media: that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo because, as Ben Shapiro put it, “Ukrainians didn’t even know military aid was being withheld.” The New York Times already reported weeks ago that the Ukrainians knew, but now it has been confirmed not only by the lying Fake News but by a Trump loyalist.
Recall that at the outset of this scandal, Republicans indignantly denied that Trump had conditioned any favors on Ukraine investigating his domestic opponents. “If you’re looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you’d be very disappointed,” insisted Senator Lindsey Graham on September 25. “That does not exist.”
In the ensuing weeks, a procession of documents and testimony have dismantled that defense piece by piece. There is no longer even the barest possible basis to dispute the factual case being made by House impeachment investigators. Both the U.S. government and Ukraine both understood an explicit quid pro quo.
Trump’s defenders have been slowly retreating from their defensive positions. Graham told CBS that he refuses to read or learn any facts that contradict his original denial. “I’ve written the whole process off … I think this is a bunch of BS.” Don’t expect any embarrassment at having lied for Trump for weeks, or anger at Trump for having gotten them to lie on his account.