I know it’s a bit dicey, but get down in the weeds with me for a bit and I will help you understand how it is that the White House and Gordon Sondland have had their legs wiped out from under them in the Ukraine “defense.”
You likely know that Ambassador Sondland testified to two phone calls with Trump about the quid pro quo, two days apart, one on September 7th and one on the 9th. We all sort of assumed that Sondland told the truth about everything because he had sold Trump out so badly in his “indeed their was a quid pro quo.” But remember, this man had to “re-remember” many things, and he either kept a few “good parts” in for Trump, or just go so crosswise he couldn’t remember what he was doing. The important thing to note is that the Republicans used his “remembered” second phone call on the 9th as a big part of their defense. iThe Trump administration believed this purported “second phone call” helped it a great deal in the Ukrainian scandal.
The problem however is that the second phone call never occurred, according to an analysis of the evidence done by Just Security. Indeed, not only did the second call not occur, upon analyzing the “only call” in a proper light, it shows Trump was directly involved in negotiations about the quid pro quo and personally vetoed an option offered by Ukraine.
First, let’s set out the purported two phone calls for clarity. The first phone call supposedly took place on September 7:
The call occurred on September 7th. In this call, Trump did say there was “no quid pro quo” with Ukraine, but he then went on to outline his preconditions for releasing the security assistance and granting a White House visit. The call was so alarming that when John Bolton learned of it, he ordered his’ deputy Tim Morrison to immediately report it to the National Security Council lawyers.
So, no matter what Trump might’ve said about “no quid pro quo,” the September 7th call had enough “conditions” on what Zelensky needed to do (a quid pro quo) that Bolton panicked and had it reported.
According to Sondland and the White House, Trump had a second phone call with Sondland on September 9th.
Sondland has testified there was a call on September 9th in which Trump said there was “no quid pro quo,” but that he wanted President Zelenskyy “to do” the right thing. A close reading of the publicly available evidence shows that the latter call was actually the very one that sent Morrison to the lawyers, and that Ambassador Bill Taylor foregrounded in his written deposition to inform Congress of the quid pro quo.
To the extent that the White House has a defense, it is that no one testified directly to the president doing any of the acts constituting a quid pro quo on the aid money or a Zelensky trip to the White House. The defense relies heavily upon the “September 9th phone call as proof. Sondland testified that he had a quick call with Trump on September 9th:
I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine? And as I recall, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelenskyy to do the right thing. (Sondland Depo. at 106)
Republicans have clung to that “do the right thing” part as a necessary component of Trump’s defense.
You will have to read the full Just Security article to go through their entire basis, it detailed and absolutely convincing. Just Security points to the fact that Sondland never actually pinned himself down to any specific date for the 2nd call. His testimony ranged from September 6th to September 9th. Moreover, the White House couldn’t come up with documentation for the 2nd phone call. Indeed, near every time Sondland talked about the call, he said he couldn’t be sure of much “without the White House releasing the records” of the call. But more than anything, I find this reasoning to be the most persuasive:
Finally, it makes little sense that Sondland would have considered Taylor’s September 9th text message to be “fairly shocking” and “alarming,” or necessitate a pre-dawn call to the White House to ask the President about whether there was a quid pro quo. After all, Sondland himself had told Taylor just one day before that the President had communicated a quid pro quo, and Sondland had told Morrison the same thing the day before that.
Those of you who have read me know that we questioned how it was that a plain old “ambassador” would be making direct calls to wake-up the president in the White House about something that clearly didn’t come as a surprise. Sondland had known for two months that there was a quid pro quo going on, and had talked to his Ukrainian counterparts all about it the day before. He is not going to wake the president up about a text he received confirming it. It makes no sense, especially when there is no record of the call.
The article goes on to analyze Sondland’s testimony in light of the others’ testimony to conclude with certainty that they are all referencing just one phone call that occurred on September 7th, the phone call that scared Bolton so much he went scrambling. The one phone call that occurred didn’t exonerate Trump, it is the same one that scared the staff senseless. Just Security’s reasoning is ironclad. Moreover, the Washington Post published an article yesterday that also cast doubt on whether a second phone call even occurred. It did not. The White House had every reason to prove it occurred, yet chose not to.
Moreover, the investigation done by “Just Security” near proves that Trump himself did order the qui pro quo, because the September 7, 2019 phone call that did occur was not in response to Taylor’s text about it being crazy to run foreign policy on a quid pro quo. No, the call that occurred was in response to a counter proposal by Ukraine. Ukraine wanted to know if it would be acceptable if the General Prosecutor made the announcement as to Biden instead of Zelensky. The Ukrainians were bargaining, and that is why Sondland had to cover it with a lie about him calling in response to Bill Taylor’s text.
Whether due to a faulty memory, or due to intentional deceit, Sondland’s testimony about the “no quid pro quo” call omitted the most critical part of the conversation: President Trump’s rejection of the compromise offer for the Prosecutor General to announce the investigations, and his demand that Zelenskyy himself do it. The “no quid pro quo” call was, in reality, a “here is the specific quid pro quo I want” call. And, by erroneously placing the call on September 9th, Sondland helped obscure these omissions from his testimony, by divorcing the call from its actual context in the ongoing negotiations with Ukraine over what form of quid pro quo would be acceptable. More importantly, it also gave the appearance that the call Sondland was describing was somehow different from the call that was described by two other witnesses – both of whom testified that the call included an explicit demand by Trump for a quid pro quo.
Sondland called Trump to ask whether Trump would accept it if the Ukraine General Prosecutor announced a Biden investigation. Trump said, “no” and that Zelensky had to do it. Incidentally, it now looks like Trump stayed home from Poland to keep himself distanced from the negotiations which occurred over that period, and not to monitor a hurricane over Alabama.
Indeed the article is particularly damning in that it eviscerates not just the September 9th phone call entirely, but it also puts the September 7th phone call in the proper context. the September phone call was not in response to Taylor being upset, it was in response to a Ukranian counter offer. One doesn’t make “counter offers” unless there is a deal being done!
The article is a must read and would seal Trump’s fate with anyone interested in the evidence. It also demonstrates to me the wisdom in waiting to get the actual documents and direct testimony from the people inside the White House, people like Bolton, Mulvaney, Perry and Pompeo. The more specific the information gleaned about the effort, the worse and worse Trump looks. When one understands that the “no quid pro quo” call was actually the one that sent Bolton running, and when one understands that Bolton went running precisely because it was a rejection of Ukraine’s attempt to “deal” with the White House, everything looks different. It was Trump, specifically, who rejected the deal, thus proving not just the quid pro quo, but directly tying it to Trump.
The Senate trial must be relatively short and concentrate upon the facts. But I do not believe we have the cleanest set of facts that we can get at this point. We should await some court rulings, or leaks, to get the direct evidence of Trump’s action in place.
He is guiltier every single day.
firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MiciakZoom