He means Gordon Sondland, of course. But remember, Graham’s so frustrated at seeing Trump’s “no quid pro quo” defense disintegrate in witness testimony that he’s vowed not even to read the transcripts anymore. Having said last month that he’d find it “very disturbing” if a quid pro quo involving military aid were established, his reaction to seeing the evidence of that arrangement mount has at last reached the fingers-in-the-ears stage.
So sure, why not deliberately mispronounce Sondland’s name to signal how disengaged he is from the substance of what Trump’s accused of? The outcome in the Senate is assured regardless.
The point to bear in mind about Sondland as you watch Graham in the clip below (just a minute or so from where it picks up) is that he’s not a career bureaucrat. He’s not a “deep state” careerist who’s been lurking within the federal bureaucracy, just waiting to sting Trump in order to prevent him from dismantling NATO or whatever. He’s Trump’s guy. He made big money in the hotel business and donated big money to Trump’s campaign. As a token of the president’s gratitude he was named ambassador to the EU, a bit of swampiness that’s perfectly standard in Washington for major donors. It would be strange for a major Trump donor who continues to work for the president, who tried to protect Trump in his original testimony by denying that military aid was included in the quid pro quo, and who still has yet to accuse Trump of directly ordering the quid pro quo, to suddenly be working with pro-impeachment Democrats.
But Graham is a desperate man, willing at this point to accuse anyone of participating in a Democratic plot in the name of providing Trump with political cover. So here he is on Fox News last night, tossing Trump’s Ukraine point man, Gordon “Sunderland,” directly under the bus.
What’s amazing about this clip is how willfully stupid it requires both Graham and the Fox audience to be to explain Sondland’s recent reversal on military aid being part of the quid pro quo. “Why did Sunderland change his testimony?” asks Graham. “Was there a connection between Sunderland and Democratic operatives on the Committee? Did he talk to Schiff? Did he talk to Schiff’s staffers? I’ve been a lawyer for a very long time, and when somebody changes their testimony, they suddenly recall something they didn’t know before, it makes me incredibly suspicious.”
It is suspicious, that much is true. In every cop show ever made, there’s a scene in which the police haul in a suspect, interrogate him, get the runaround from him, then go on to uncover new evidence proving that his original story was a lie. So they haul him in again. And the suspect, realizing he’s been caught in a lie … changes his story. Suspicious. Why did he lie the first time? What is he hiding? In the case of Ukraine, Sondland obviously held back the fact that military aid was part of the deal during his original testimony, probably hoping that other witnesses to follow would also “forget” that damaging detail in their own testimonies. But Bill Taylor and Alex Vindman and Tim Morrison all testified to it. And once Sondland realized that they had, he knew he’d be asked soon under oath to explain why their recollections differed from his.
So, miraculously, his memory was jogged. Come to think of it, he did tell the Ukrainians on September 1 that military aid was contingent upon reopening “anti-corruption” investigations.
He knew the cops were about to haul him in and confront him with the new evidence they’d uncovered. He decided to change his story before they showed up.
Graham wants you to believe that this perfectly familiar and straightforward scenario, which every Fox viewer in America has absorbed in countless true-crime shows and police dramas, isn’t actually a simple case of Sondland being caught in a lie but a case of him somehow being blackmailed or whatever into joining Adam Schiff’s “deep state” coup. No evidence needed. The point is merely to plant the seed of a conspiracy narrative and let it flower in Republican minds, fertilized by the need to protect Trump at all costs. “Gordon ‘Sunderland’ said something that undermines Trump’s case? Probably the bad guys got to him.” Graham knows it’s goofy, he knows Fox fans know it’s goofy, but entertaining this silly theory is in their mutual political interest so he farts it out on camera at the first opportunity.
Speaking of the Senate trial, the Daily Beast has an update to the news yesterday that one or both Bidens might eventually be called to testify by Trump’s lawyers. Senate Democrats are obviously leery of that. But so are many Republicans, which will antagonize you-know-who. Trump understands that going on offense is good defense in this case. By making Burisma a focus of his defense, at a minimum he can get Americans talking about how dubious Hunter Biden’s position on the company board was. If nothing else, by raising enough doubt about what the Bidens were up to, he can capitalize on one of his core campaign points from 2016: No matter how bad you think I am, remember that the establishment is plenty bad too. Convince Americans that Joe Biden may have abused his office by trying to protect Hunter’s company and you may convince them that it’d be unfair to oust Trump for his Ukraine shenanigans even if the evidence proves his guilt. After all, if Joe wasn’t removed from office, why should Trump be? Nonetheless, GOPers seem reluctant to go down this road:
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), whom Graham has since deferred to on the issue of hearings, has suggested that his committee would stay away the Bidens, for now…
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who chairs the Senate’s panel on oversight and could call certain witnesses if he wanted, said he’d be interested in hearing from the Bidens “at some point in time” but indicated he was not interested in “show trials.” The senator, who has found himself as a side player in the Trump-Ukraine saga, has frequently referenced reporting from John Solomon, the conservative reporter whose work, while criticized on the merits, has fueled allegations of corruption against the Bidens.
“I’m just trying to tenaciously gather information so we can, at some point in time, determine the truth,” Johnson told reporters on Wednesday.
For Republicans, I think it’s a basic matter of not wanting to take on any more needless risk. They’re going to acquit Trump, which is risky enough in itself. They don’t need to compound it by giving Joe Biden a national soapbox during an impeachment trial, not knowing how bad his testimony might be for them. It would be an out-and-out disaster if Biden’s turn in the spotlight somehow rescued his flagging chances at the Democratic nomination and propelled him to victory in the primary, knowing how difficult a match-up he is for Trump in the Rust Belt. Republicans just want this process over with and forgotten about, however mad it might make Trump not to see them use the trial as an opportunity to rally behind his Burisma conspiracy theory. He won’t stay mad at them for long once he’s acquitted.