President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense is being stripped away plank by plank by some of the administration officials caught up in his scheme to pressure Ukraine for political favors.
A dramatic reversal by Republican donor turned diplomat Gordon Sondland, who now says that a quid pro quo was needed from Kiev to free up military aid, rocked Washington Tuesday and undercut GOP strategy.
In testimony released by impeachment investigators, the US ambassador to the European Union also testified that he assumed it would be “illegal” for Trump’s fixer and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to push Ukraine to investigate the President’s political opponents.
Sondland’s adjusted testimony did much to dismantle the President’s core and repeated defense: that he did not hold up aid to Kiev to force it to open a probe into Joe Biden and that any suggestion to the contrary is simply the “crazed” delusion of “Never Trumpers.”
But his deposition was still punctuated by admissions that he could not remember what happened or did not know the motivations of key players – signs of a potential attempt to protect the President.
Yet given the ossified political partisanship in the Congress, there were also signs that no disclosures, however damaging to the President, are likely to turn a party in thrall to his faithful political base against him and lead it to contemplate ejecting him from office.
Still, Sondland was not the only senior diplomatic figure to contradict the President’s version of events on the second day of releases that threaten to turn into slow moving political torture for the White House.
The former US envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, threatened another pillar of Trump’s defense – that the July 25 call with the Ukrainian President that Trump has said was “perfect” was in fact a “surprise” and “extremely unfortunate.”
Tuesday’s developments were a critical twist in an investigation that is on the cusp of a new and public phase that could further imperil the President and his 2020 election plans.
The disclosures appeared to significantly weaken the White House case that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine and therefore no abuse of presidential power worthy of impeachment.