Axios posted this item early this morning before Bill Taylor and George Kent testified but it seems even more relevant afterward.
It’s been reported elsewhere recently that three scapegoats are being lined up for Trump in case the evidence starts building that the president himself was behind the quid pro quo. One is Mick Mulvaney, who oversees the agency that held up Ukraine’s military aid; the second is Gordon Sondland, the middleman between the White House and Ukraine who squeezed the latter to investigate “corruption”; and the third, of course, is Rudy, the man who was chattering to the press about his interest in the Bidens and Burisma six months ago and who appears to have served as chief liaison to Ukraine in all this.
Mulvaney could theoretically be blamed for placing a hold on the aid without Trump’s approval, but that would be hard to believe given reporting to the contrary. Sondland could theoretically be blamed for freelancing an aid-for-Burisma exchange on Ukraine, but that’s hard to believe too given his status in the administration. He’s a rich guy who donated to Trump’s campaign and was rewarded with an ambassadorship, not a “deep stater” with his own foreign policy agenda. He’s a messenger, little more.
Which leaves Rudy, a man who’s ideally positioned to be scapegoated. He was aggressive about the Burisma probe from the start; he was apparently giving orders to the likes of Sondland; and he sounds batty in his public interviews, making it that much more plausible that he might have gotten a little too … enthusiastic in his effort to expose corruption by the Bidens. Maybe Rudy ordered an aid-for-Burisma quid pro quo without the president even realizing it!
I mean, almost certainly not in reality. But it’s vaguely plausible enough that the GOP could make that claim if they needed to in order to pin this mess on someone else. And best of all, Rudy might go along with it. Mulvaney and Sondland aren’t old-school Trumpers. Whether they’d take a bullet for a guy whom they might not even like personally is an open question. But Giuliani is a crony’s crony, a man who was onboard with MAGA from the start. He might volunteer to rescue the boss by stepping up and saying, “I masterminded the whole thing,” in the expectation that Trump would pardon him later if he faced any charges. Can’t send a man to prison because he got caught up in a Democratic “witch hunt,” right?
Top House Republican sources tell Axios that one impeachment survival strategy will be to try to distance President Trump from any Ukraine quid pro quo, with Rudy Giuliani potentially going under the bus.
What they’re saying: A Republican member of one of the impeachment committees told Axios: “[T]his is not an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani, it’s not an impeachment of Ambassador Sondland. It’s an impeachment of the president of the United States.”…
An uber-connected Republican added: “Rudy will be cut loose because he was rogue.”
It was a quid pro quo, and it was for an improper purpose, just like Democrats say. It just wasn’t Trump who arranged it. It was Rudy. That’ll be the argument if the testimony begins to produce evidence that this really was all about ending Joe Biden’s chances of beating Trump next fall.
What a terrible stroke of luck for the president in that case that his overzealous attorney would have done something so underhanded, completely without Trump’s own knowledge. If that’s the narrative that the GOP ends up having to push here, I hope there’s a full presidential press conference where Trump has to pretend to be disappointed in Giuliani’s terrible unethical behavior. That’s the only thing that could redeem this clusterfark.
Democrats know that there are potential fall guys being lined up here. That’s why they’re excited about the revelation in Taylor’s testimony this morning that one of his aides allegedly heard Trump on a call talking to Gordon Sondland about “investigations” on July 26. Schiff highlighted the significance of that in a press conference after today’s hearings.
Schiff says the new witness Friday is "potentially very important" bc he overheard the conversation Taylor revealed b/w Trump and Sondland in which Trump wants Ukraine to probe Biden. "What this call indicates .. is that the instructions are coming from the president on down." pic.twitter.com/g5Ifpj1ZUS
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 13, 2019
Because the White House is holding back so many key firsthand witnesses (Bolton and Mulvaney foremost among them), Dems have very little hard evidence that Trump himself was pulling the strings on the quid pro quo. What they need is someone who heard the president say directly that military aid should be delayed in order to put pressure on Ukraine to announce that they’re reopening the Burisma probe. The jackpot would be evidence that Trump also said he was interested in Burisma because he was worried about Biden’s chances of beating him next year. It seems unlikely that Bolton and Mulvaney will end up testifying given the short timeline Democrats have on impeachment, though, and it seems even more unlikely that Giuliani would rat Trump out given the opportunity. Sondland is their best and maybe only chance for that sort of gamechanger. But in the meantime, they’ll take any testimony they can get that establishes that Trump himself was giving orders on Ukraine, not (just) Rudy. The deposition that’s coming on Friday from Taylor’s aide might do that.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s a notable admission from Kent today that won’t come as a surprise to people who are following the Ukraine saga closely but will come as a *big* surprise to casual consumers. Various Republicans, Nikki Haley most recently among them, have made the point that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo considering that Ukraine got its money before it had to actually do anything about Burisma. If Trump was using the military aid as leverage, why the hell would he have handed the money over before they gave him the very thing he had been demanding? Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi drilled down on that in his questioning this afternoon. The reason the administration coughed up the money, he suggested, is because various congressional committees started investigating the delay in aid on September 9 — the very same day, coincidentally, that the State Department finally released the aid. (And just four days before Zelensky was set to make a statement on CNN finally announcing the revival of the Burisma probe.) In other words, Krishnamoorthi is saying, the administration didn’t willingly cough up the aid; Congress scared them into doing it before the quid pro quo could be performed by Ukraine, or at least that’s what the timeline suggests. Kent confirms that that was indeed the timeline.