The latest impeachment update is not just big, it’s huge. Let’s just put it out there — not only does it look like we’ve located the smoking gun, but one with Donald Trump’s fingerprints all over it.
I know we saw something like this coming. But who knew it would come with such detail, such precision, such certainty — and all of it leading directly to the president?
Maybe Trump knew. Maybe that’s why he went to the ultimate diversion, calling the impeachment inquiry a lynching, as if Trump, the ultimate victim, saw himself as a modern-day Emmett Till. As David Gergen pointed out, this may be the John Dean moment in the Trump impeachment.
It turns out that the amateurs running the rogue Ukraine foreign policy out of the White House — by which I mean Rudy, Sondland and the boys — were done in by a professional, who smelled the smoke as soon as he arrived in Kyiv and then followed the trail to the dumpster fire that is the Trump administration.
And so on Tuesday, career diplomat and old Ukraine hand, Bill Taylor — now the top diplomat in Ukraine — told the whole story to the House committees running the impeachment inquiry. You should read it for yourself. It’s 15 pages long, and each one of them might as well have quid pro quo stamped on Trump’s face.
Taylor was brought into the saga after Trump fired Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, reportedly at Giuliani’s request, for not playing ball with his rogue team. Trump’s own Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called on Taylor, who has worked for Republicans and Democrats over many years and was the Ukraine ambassador in 2006 to 2008, to replace Yovanovitch. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Taylor wouldn’t play ball either. We knew it when we read the damning texts that diplomat Kurt Volker released during his testimony.
But now we know much more. Taylor tells the story of how he learned that the Trump administration was holding up the $390 million in military aid that had been promised Ukraine to continue its fight against Russian-backed fighters and how it was also holding up a promised White House meeting for President Zelensky with Trump.
What took Taylor a while to figure out was why the money and the meeting were being held up. It took him so long because the reasoning was so incredible, even for someone who has been in the game most of his professional life.
We already know the answer. We heard it from the whistleblower. We read the summary transcript on the infamous July 25th quid pro quo phone call between Trump and Zelensky. But now we know the back story — that Trump wouldn’t give Zelensky what he wanted unless Zelensky publicly said he was investigating the Bidens, father and son, for Hunter Biden’s connection to Burisma, a large Ukraine gas company. And he wouldn’t give Zelensky what he wanted unless he publicly said he was investigating the bizarre conspiracy theory that Ukraine was at the center of the 2016 campaign hacking scandal and not the Russians.
You want more quid pro quo than that? Here’s from Taylor’s opening statement: “Amb. (Gordon) Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Amb. Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.
“He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”
There are a few second-hand bits in Taylor’s story, ones that should be cleared up in further testimony. In any case, it’s going to be hard to convincingly say that Taylor is a liar. Did he make up the term “public box”? And if did, what was his motive?
Trump’s defenders won’t have time to make the dubious witch hunt case they made against Bob Mueller. Taylor’s testimony is so straightforward, so difficult to taint with tales of bias or misjudgment.
In his statement, Taylor tells the committee how he became “increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular informal channel of U.S. policy-making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons.” He tells the committee that Sondland and Volker — who were part of the “irregular informal channel” that reported to Giuliani — both told him that Trump was a businessman “about to sign a check to someone who owes him something … (and) the businessman asked that person to pay up before signing the check.” Taylor said Ukraine didn’t “owe” Trump anything and that the whole notion was “crazy.”
To this point, Trump defenders have been saying, come on, it was one phone call. Taylor said he saw the plan unfold over three months. To this point, Trump defenders have said there was no quid pro quo because Sondland said Trump told him there was no quid pro quo. Taylor said the I-would-like-you-to-do-us-a-favor-though request by Trump was exactly what it sounded like.
And so, here are four options Trump and his defenders would seem to be left with:
1. Yeah, maybe it was quid pro quo, but, grow up, that’s how you play the game.
2. Yeah, Giuliani was trying desperately to get Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, but that’s only because Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine — if not in Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or the Trump White House.
3. Yeah, the Ukraine affair might be bad, it might be a little out of bounds, it might be a little too Rudy, but it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachable. It’s not like lying about an intern and oral sex.
4. Yeah, this is just as bad as it looks, but don’t talk to me about smoking guns. Remember Trump’s line about 5th Avenue? As long as the base is with the president, I’m with him, too.