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No Mystery

Republicans aren't being moved by Sondland's testimony because they already know what happened.
November 21, 2019
No Mystery
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.

—Ambassador Gordon Sondland

Yes, there was a quid pro quo. The president demanded it. Everybody knew about it. There was no secret.

But we knew all that didn’t we?

Kim Wehle has the highlights from yesterday’s extraordinary testimony by Gordon Sondland, who dimed out pretty much everybody in the administration from Mike Pompeo to Donald Trump.“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said. “The answer is yes.”

“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”


But let’s step back a bit here. One by one the various defenses and excuses of Trump World have been dismantled. There was no quid pro quo, the evidence is hearsay, the Ukrainians never knew about the delay in military aid … look there’s a squirrel over there.

But we knew those defenses would fall apart … and so did the GOP, because we’ve known what the story is all along. There is no mystery here. Trump’s efforts to bully Ukraine have been as subtle as a hacksaw in a surgery ward.

For some perspective, let’s go back to that New York Times story from May of this year: “Rudy Giuliani Plans Ukraine Trip to Push for Inquiries That Could Help Trump.” That was the headline. It was pretty much all there:

WASHINGTON — Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, is encouraging Ukraine to wade further into sensitive political issues in the United States, seeking to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump.

Mr. Giuliani said he plans to travel to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in the coming days and wants to meet with the nation’s president-elect to urge him to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.

One is the origin of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The other is the involvement of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.

Mr. Giuliani’s plans create the remarkable scene of a lawyer for the president of the United States pressing a foreign government to pursue investigations that Mr. Trump’s allies hope could help him in his re-election campaign. And it comes after Mr. Trump spent more than half of his term facing questions about whether his 2016 campaign conspired with a foreign power. [emphasis added]

And then, of course, Giuliani went on CNN to admit that he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

We’ve seen the “transcript.”

Mick Mulvaney held a press conference defiantly admitting the quid pro quo.

The military aid was, in fact held up.

Key players have testified what they saw and heard.

And know we know that everyone involved in the cleanup of this mess knew what was going on. Republicans tried to make an issue of the fact that Sondland made some presumptions about the linkage between the aid and the investigations, but, frankly, you don’t have to be a Rubik’s Cube champion to figure all this out.

As George Orwell—who would be enjoying all of this enormously—once observed: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

Most Republicans know this. Perhaps even Devin Nunes knows what happened. Surely Elise Stefanik, who is no fool, even though she occasionally plays one on television, knows it. So where does that leave us?

The impeachment hearings have already had more than their share of revelations and even “bombshells.” More may be on the way. The public is getting a clearer picture of the president’s willingness to subordinate national security for his political advantage. But, by now it should be clear that this process is not really about facts or evidence. It is about the GOP determination to protect Trump and maintain his hold on power.

No. Matter. What.

That is why they are so unmoved by the new revelations. They didn’t learn anything yesterday. They already knew what happened, don’t care, and see the whole process as an exercise in protecting the throne. Trump defenders will continue to shift the goalposts, because, for them, that is really the point. They will offer nonsensical, bad-faith defenses, watch them continue to be demolished, and keep moving on without blinking.

No smoking gun will change any of this, because the GOP knows the gun was fired; they know who fired it; and they know where the bodies can be found.

They just don’t care.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.