“I want nothing” seems to be Trump’s new mantra — but the defense doesn't entirely stand up. Witnesses have testified that there were, in fact, conditions on official actions.
He said it repeatedly in a gaggle with reporters yesterday. He tweeted the phrase as well, and re-tweeted Republican lawmakers who used the quote. And Republicans on the House Intel Committee are displaying a large sign with the quote ahead of the evening hearing with State Department official David Hale and Pentagon official Laura Cooper.
Where this phrase comes from: It's from Trump’s Sept. 9 phone call with Gordon Sondland, when Sondland asked him what he wanted from Ukraine in exchange for lifting the freeze on US military assistance. But that call happened after the White House had already been made aware of the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
“It was a very short, abrupt conversation,” Sondland said. “He was not in a good mood. And he just said I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
Despite the rhetoric, Trump’s "I want nothing" mantra doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Sondland himself testified that there were conditions on official actions, like a White House invitation for Ukraine’s new leader Volodymyr Zelensky. The conditions were that Zelensky publicly announce investigations into the Bidens and into conspiracies about the 2016 election.
Other witnesses – like former White House aide Alexander Vindman and US diplomat Bill Taylor — testified that they understood that those public announcements needed to happen before the White House would release the military aid.
Also, the “I want nothing” defense falls flat when compared with comments last month from White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaeny, who brazenly admitted that the military aid was withheld until Ukraine helped with the investigation into 2016.
It could be a strong talking point – it’s a simple phrase that Trump can inject into the conversation. But it’s not accurate.