Remember when I said last week that October 17 was the worst day of the Trump presidency? Well, October 22 and has now come along to break the record. This is the day that, I think, has ensured Donald Trump’s impeachment. Not his removal. But impeachment will be bad enough.
Today’s key sentence: “Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.”
It comes from the testimony of acting U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine William Taylor before House impeachment investigators, and it instantly makes all but impossible the task of anyone seeking to defend Trump against the charge that he held up American military aid to Ukraine to secure a political advantage in the 2020 election.
There were three defenses of Trump following the revelations of the “whistleblower” and the phone-call transcript of the conversation between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine. The first was that he is only interested in investigating corruption relating to the 2016 election. The second is that even though Trump himself said he wanted the Ukranian to do him a favor, there was no quid pro quo. The third is that the only thing Trump was trading for was a White House visit, which is no great shakes.
There’s no need to talk about the “whistleblower” and his findings any longer, and there’s no need for the whistleblower to be heard any further. We have a veteran U.S. diplomat on the record saying that a Trump intimate told him Trump was holding up Congressionally authorized and appropriated military aid to Ukraine because he wanted a public statement from the Zelensky government that it was investigating Joe Biden’s son.
Taylor said this of a September 1 phone call with Gordon Sondland, our ambassador to the European Union about the $275 million in U.S. security assistance to Ukraine as well as a possible meeting between Trump and Ukranian president Zelensky:
“Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations—in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
So that’s it. Unless Trump and Sondland deny this, and offer evidence that Taylor is wrong or lying, we now have contemporaneous confirmation that the president intended to hold up military aid to the Ukranians to secure domestic political advantage.
That’s the ballgame. That’s impeachment. In doing this Trump was contravening U.S. law, which does not give the president the right to deny Ukraine the money appropriated by Congress for Ukraine.
Whether what Trump does obliges the Senate to remove him from the presidency will be up to Republicans in the Senate to decide at the trial that will follow what I think is the now-inevitable impeachment. The fact that the aid to Ukraine has in fact gone through despite Trump’s illegitimate temporary suspension may be the straw the GOP will grasp to prevent his conviction in that trial. But that’s no defense of Trump’s actions. If I’m right, they will, in effect, have to concede the wrongdoing and say it is too minor to lead to such an extreme sanction. So Trump won’t be the first president to be removed from office. He will, however, be the third to be impeached. And, as I said, that will be bad enough.