Defending President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated claims that there was no quid pro quo in his relationship with Ukraine becomes more difficult by the day. Which forces Republicans to bend over backward – and crush logic – to do so.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose transformation from Trump critic to Trump confidant is one of the most remarkable things I have ever witnessed in politics, may have set the bar impossibly high Wednesday with his defense of Trump (and the broader administration) on charges of a quid pro quo.
Take it away, Lindsey!
“What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine: It was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to, they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo, so no I find the whole process to be a sham and I’m not going to legitimize it.”
OK, OK. So what we have here is this argument: The Trump White House is so disorganized that they couldn’t possibly have quid pro quo’ed it! They are too incompetent! So therefore, this whole thing is a sham!
(Sidebar: We heard this same argument from Republicans privately during the Mueller probe into Russia. The Trump campaign was too disorganized to collude!)
Here’s the problem for Graham: We now know, thanks to US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s, uh, memory recovery that he told a top Ukrainian government official in September that US military aid was likely being held up due to the fact that an official announcement launching an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden had not yet been made.
And that comes within weeks of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney telling reporters that, yes, a desire to see Ukraine announce an investigation into the 2016 election was a reason why $400 million in American military aid was being withheld. “We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “Get over it.”
So whether or not Trump made the quid pro quo explicit in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – and any neutral reading of that rough transcript suggests he came very close – it’s clear that by earlier this fall, the Ukrainians knew the deal: Open the required investigations or don’t get the money. (The money was finally released on September 11.)
The Ukrainians had no way of knowing that the White House was, in Graham’s formulation, too disorganized to push a quid pro quo. All they knew was that Sondland told a top aide to Zelensky what he believed the way to get the aid released was.
Graham’s argument is a classic attempt to spin past events in a way that none of the players could have reasonably expected to understand in the moment. And incompetence, even if it’s not fully known, is no excuse anyway.
The Point: Call Graham’s “explanation” what it really is – bad spin that directly contradicts known facts.