Friday, November 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got ready to throw Gordon Sondland under the bus.

Gordon Sondland is the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. A former hotel developer with no political or diplomatic experience other than giving Trump $1 million in inaugural funds, Sondland played a role in the Trump-Ukraine scandal when he tried to help Ukrainian officials "navigate" Trump's demands for their interference in the upcoming American presidential election. 

Last month, Trump tweeted this about Sondland:

I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the see. Importantly, Ambassador Sondland’s tweet, which few report, stated, “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” That says it ALL!

Sondland later admitted that he had texted the "crystal clear" quote to Ukrainian ambassador Bill Taylor on Trump's specific orders. At the time, Trump's attempt to force Ukraine to "investigate" Joe Biden's family hadn't yet been made public, so trying to cover it up in advance means Trump knew what he was doing was wrong.

Earlier this week, fearing perjury charges after other witnesses' testimony contradicted his, Sondland amended his testimony. In the revised version, he said he "now recalled" telling Ukrainian officials that Trump would not released the desperately needed $400 million in military aid unless they made a "public statement" about Biden's family. As a Department of Homeland Security official testified, Trump "wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say 'investigations, Biden and Clinton.'" Zelensky had reluctantly made plans to appear on CNN and say just that when Congressional pressure forced the release of the withheld aid.

In short: Sondland was a Trump ally tasked to help Trump threaten Ukraine without the State Department or the national security community finding out about it. When they were caught, Sondland initially told Trump's version of the story, but then fessed up when he realized the legal jeopardy he was in.

Today, asked specifically about Sondland for the first time since he changed his testimony, Trump said, "I hardly knew the gentleman." This is in line with the White House's latest impeachment defense: that Sondland—along with Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giulianitook it on themselves to try to force Ukraine to help Trump in the 2020 elections without Trump knowing about it.

Abandoning underlings in order to save himself is a familiar move for Trump. He did it with his Giuliani's predecessor, Michael Cohen, who is serving a prison sentence for crimes where Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator. He tried to reinvent his own campaign surrogate and disgraced national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn—also likely headed for prison—as an Obama holdover. (President Obama fired Flynn and warned Trump not to let him back into government.) And he's already made tentative steps to separate himself from other Ukraine scandal figures: he hesitated to say whether Rudy Giuliani was still his lawyer, and insisted in the face of copious evidence to the contrary that he didn't know Giuliani's now-indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Who cares?

  • This isn't something an innocent person would do in this situation.