Over the last several weeks Donald Trump's impeachment defense has shifted numerous times. When he and his Republican defenders can no longer maintain an old position, they shift to a different one, without any recognition that something they once insisted on as true continues to be demonstrated to be false.
Let's look at ten of these \”defenses.\”
Nothing wrong with the July 25 phone call.
The official White House review of Trump's July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky-not to mention subsequent statements by Trump himself-put an end to this argument. There is no longer any dispute that Trump asked a foreign country to investigate his likely opponent in 2021.
In fact, it's worse . Trump's real demand wasn't so much about Ukraine investigating Biden as it involved Ukraine making a public statement, on U.S. television, that it was going to do so. Trump wanted a political advertisement from Ukraine. Whether there was a real investigation was secondary.
Yes, Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, but this request wasn't tied to aid.
The testimony of Trumper E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland killed this line. Sondland testified that he told a top Zelensky aide that \”resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the general public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for a lot of weeks.\” There's more here, but that one statement is enough.
Yes, the investigations were associated with aid, but Trump was attempting to fight corruption, not seeking political gain.
Of all of Trump's defenses, this is probably the most ludicrous.
There isn't a hint of anti-corruption in Trump's foreign policy. The term \”corruption\” wasn't even mentioned in the July 25 phone call. Indeed, the testimony up to now is far more consistent with attempts by Trump and the inner circle to attack corruption fighters, not corruption. Rudy Giuliani, in league with some of the most corrupt individuals in Ukraine, went after Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch precisely because he viewed her as an obstacle to obtaining a corrupt quid pro quo.
Moreover, the entire idea of leveraging foreign governments to wash up corruption is actively contrary to Trump's hostility toward anti-corruption efforts in U.S. foreign policy. Trump has positively made excuses for the governments of Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia when they have been accused of corruption. When did Trump ever participate in an anti-corruption campaign or threaten to prevent aid to Afghanistan, the Philippines, or even Ukraine ?
Trump only froze aid to Ukraine because he's paranoid and vindictive-using the withheld aid to extort Ukraine only dawned on him later.
This is most likely Trump's most convincing argument, but it is not really a defense, is it?
We have credible testimony that Trump hated Ukraine and thought that mid-level Ukrainian officials were out to get him.
But is there really such a thing as mid-level Ukrainians being \”out to get\” obama of the United States? Exactly how were they going to \”get\” him? Hasn't the United States always been the party with the leverage in this relationship? Doesn't some government official criticize leaders of other countries every day? So what?
So yes, this line of thinking is silly.
On the other hand, it's perfectly plausible like a brain wave from the American president.
But the truth that Trump might have tumbled onto the aid-for-dirt extortion scheme only at some point after he had already chose to withhold aid out of spite doesn't appear to be a defense to me.
Saying that you only did something corrupt after you did something stupid doesn't sound like any kind of defense.
Yes, he fired Yovanovitch, but he replaced her with somebody equally honorable, William Taylor.
The GOP people in the House Intelligence Committee tried to argue that Trump simply replaced Maria Yovanovitch with William Taylor, who had been just as honorable.
The problem this is actually the timing. There was a full month between Yovanovitch leaving and the appointment of Taylor, during which time the control of Ukraine policy was wrested away from career professionals and placed in the hands of individuals more prepared to do Trump's bidding, the so-called three amigos: Rick Perry, Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker.
There is not a scrap of evidence that Trump had Taylor in your mind when he fired Yovanovitch. To the contrary, Trump has become faulting Secretary of State Pompeo to have hired Taylor and other State Department officials who have supplied damaging testimony against him.
No harm, no foul because Trump ultimately released the aid.
Trump only released the aid after the whistleblower's report became known. Should you kidnap someone, and then release them prior to the ransom gets paid, you still committed a kidnapping.
There couldn't be a quid pro quo, because Ukraine didn't know the help was being withheld.
In fact, \”word from the aid freeze had reached high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week of August,\” just days after Trump's July 25 phone call with President Zelensky. And the Ukrainians knew, a minimum of as early as September 1 that lifting the freeze was associated with a public announcement of a Biden investigation shortly thereafter.
There couldn't be considered a quid pro quo, because Zelensky hadn't done anything once the aid was released.
Zelensky did do something to obtain the aid released. He agreed to announce an investigation of the Bidens on the U.S. television program.
Top Ukraine diplomat Bill Taylor testified that Trump wanted Zelensky in a \”public box\”:
“Trump through Ambassador Sondland was asking for Zelensky to very publicly commit to these investigations. It was not sufficient to get this done in private, that this must be a very public statement.”
Although Zelensky believed that kind of interference in a U.S. election would be a very bad idea, according to Fareed Zakaria, he \”ultimately decided he would have to give in.\” So he decided to announce the investigations on television in the United States in an interview with Zakaria. He only called off the interview after Trump was forced through the whistleblower's revelations to release the aid.
It had not been Trump.
This one is in critical condition, though not on life support.
The amount of separation, if any, between Trump and also the aid-for-dirt extortion scheme hasn't been fully established.
There isn't any dispute that Trump asked Zelensky to research the Bidens. And there's no dispute that Trump ordered the withholding of help to Ukraine.
But so far there is little first-hand evidence of Trump, himself, linking the aid to the investigation in an explicit quid pro quo.
Which is to say: Nobody has quoted Trump as saying to them, \”Go tell Zelensky that if he wants military aid, he has to announce that he's investigating the Bidens.\” Obviously, one of the hallmarks of Trump's administration is the fact that he conducts himself nothing like a normally corrupt politician, but just like a gangster. He has demonstrated, repeatedly, that he is keenly interested in creating a wall of separation between himself and crimes committed on his behalf.
But that wall is starting to crack. David Holmes, a career U.S, foreign service officer stationed in Ukraine, testified a week ago that he overheard a July 26 conversation between Gordon Sondland and President Trump by which Trump specifically asked Sondland if Ukraine had agreed to investigate the Bidens. Sondland assured Trump that he had.
Holmes' testimony is vital in a number of ways. For one, it shows that Trump did, in fact, believe that he had obtained something from Zelensky that was vitally important to Trump: an agreement to research the Bidens.
But it doesn't go up to linking Trump directly, through first-hand testimony, towards the linkage between unfreezing the aid and announcing the investigations. Unless there's more to Holmes' testimony than is previewed in the opening statement, the \”it wasn't me\” defense is just mostly dead.
Who can kill it?
Gordon Sondland without a doubt.
Sondland has admitted his personal involvement in both sides of the quid pro quo. He's testified that he told a high Zelensky aide that Ukraine \”would likely not\” get resumption of aid until Zelensky publicly announced, on U.S. television, that Ukraine was investigating the Bidens.
Tim Morrison, a senior NSC aide, has tied this to Trump, although not directly. Morrison testified that Sondland told him that he was frequently in touch with Trump, and was functioning on Trump's orders. This is damning testimony, but it's second-hand-Morrison heard it from Sondland, not Trump.
Sondland provides the missing link connecting everything to Trump. If Sondland confirms that he was acting on Trump's orders when he delivered the quid pro quo to Zelensky's aide, the \”it wasn't me\” is going to be all dead. At that point, Trump's only defense is a he-said, she-said where he would claim that Sondland is lying to protect himself and that the only person telling the entire truth in this entire affair is Donald J. Trump.
If Donald J. Trump's defense comes down to \”I'm the only guy telling the complete truth,\” he is in trouble.
Right now, it's hard to imagine that Sondland won't supply the missing link when he testifies now. Having already admitted to delivering the quid pro quo himself, it seems unlikely that he will fall on his sword for Trump, claiming he did it entirely of their own accord, and then lied relating to this to Morrison.
Unlikely, but not impossible.
Not in Trump World.
Not in a gangster government.
If you assume that Gordon Sondland will supply the missing link that fatally wounds the \”it wasn't me\” defense, \”not impeachable\” is going to be Trump's last stand.
The defense will go something like this:
\”Okay, maybe it wasn't right that Trump withheld help with an attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But a 'high crime or misdemeanor?' Gimme a rest. That's just Trump being Trump, with no reason to overturn the 2021 election. This can be a political issue that should be decided in the polls in 2021.\”
The virtue of this defense is that it can't be disproven. There are no facts involved, only opinions.
The vice of the defense is that it normalizes bribery, extortion, and self-dealing with a president of the United States.