I’m 50/50 on whether this is a virtuoso gaslighting performance aimed at trying to convince the country that Sondland’s testimony was actually the opposite of what it was or whether he hasn’t seen the testimony yet and was given only a bowdlerized version by his staff. “How’d it go with Sondland today?” “Uh, very well, Mr. President. He said you told him at one point that there was no quid pro quo.” “Sounds FANTASTIC.”
My guess is that he watched the whole thing and is gaslighting people. Which is great, because inevitably he’s going to forget his own spin and revert to form by tweeting tomorrow that Sondland is a treacherous scumbag whom he regrets nominating as ambassador.
Worth a shot, though:
Speaking to reporters during his factory tour in Austin, Trump described Sondland’s testimony as “fantastic” and said it proves he “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
“They have to end it now. There was no quid pro quo. … Not only did we win today; it’s over,” Trump said…
“‘I want nothing.’ And then I repeated it. ‘I want nothing,’” Trump said, referring to Sondland’s description of the president’s remarks during their phone call on Sept. 9.
The White House press office also went all-in on the “big win” talking point, beaming out a statement titled “Ambassador Sondland Completely Exonerates President Trump of Any Wrongdoing.” But the way you can really tell that this is an official talking point, not just Trump riffing based on incomplete information about what Sondland said, is that Hannity’s pushing the same message:
Sean Hannity says on his radio show that Gordon Sondland's testimony has won it for the Republicans: "It is over. It is done. This is the end of this."
— Jeremy Barr (@jeremymbarr) November 20, 2019
More Hannity on today: "It couldn't have gone better."
— Jeremy Barr (@jeremymbarr) November 20, 2019
That was … not the view of all observers today:
WaPo writer Amber Philips rounded up all the Republican arguments that Sondland undermined in his testimony today, from big ones (he claimed there was in fact a quid pro quo and multiple high-level people knew about it) to smaller ones (he’s a rich donor and Trump appointee, not a career “deep state” bureaucrat running his own foreign policy). The fact that Trump told him there was no quid pro quo is also more complicated than it seems, as I said earlier. Trump made that comment in the final few days of the Ukraine saga when the whole thing was starting to blow up, likely after he’d already found out about the whistleblower complaint. Whether he was sincere in what he said to Sondland or, in context, whether he was already worried about outside scrutiny and eager to tell people there was no quid pro quo to get that on the record is anyone’s guess.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. This morning, before Sondland even walked into the room, David Drucker of the Examiner posted a piece about the inevitable endgame here. If Republicans are forced by the facts to admit that a quid pro quo happened, they’re fully prepared to do so. They’ll simply argue that it doesn’t matter. When in doubt, shrug.
After saying they could not accept a quid pro quo, House Republicans say it no longer matters if President Trump tied $400 million in military aid earmarked for Ukraine to Kyiv agreeing to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden…
Republicans now say proof that Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of Biden, a top 2020 contender, his son Hunter, and the Democratic Party would not shake their opposition to impeachment. The money was released without such a deal, and, Republicans emphasize, federal law gives presidents broad discretion to withhold foreign aid…
A House GOP aide described the change in messaging this way: “It has gone from ‘There is no quid pro quo’ to ‘There’s a quid and a quo but not a pro’ to ‘Even if there was a quid pro quo, it’s not that bad, this is just how things are done — you can say it’s bad, but it’s not impeachable.”
As I’m writing this at 6:30 ET, news is breaking from the second leg of testimony today. Laura Cooper, one of the bureaucrats involved in the Ukraine matter, told Schiff’s committee that the Ukrainians were inquiring about their military aid on July 25th, the same day as Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. Until now, the best the media had been able to do in pinpointing when Ukraine became aware of a delay in aid was early August:
NEW: On July 25, the day of Trump-Zelenskiy call, Ukrainians were asking about their military aid, Cooper testifies. She says staff brought these details to her after reviewing her previous testimony. pic.twitter.com/9XcdxUXI0A
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) November 20, 2019
I’ve never thought the precise timing of when the military aid was delayed mattered much. Whether Zelensky knew when he spoke to Trump on the 25th that the aid was on hold or whether he only found out a few weeks later, there was obviously pressure applied after the fact with the aid as leverage to get them to make a move on the Burisma probe. But if you’re of the mind that it’s important for Zelensky to have already feared that Ukraine’s aid hung in the balance at the moment he told Trump on the call that he’d look into the Biden and CrowdStrike matters, and that otherwise there’s no evidence that the aid induced a promise from the Ukrainian government, then here’s Cooper with reason to believe that that’s what happened.
POTUS has his spin, though, and he’s sticking to it:
Here’s Andy McCarthy on Fox earlier today, in lieu of an exit question. I understand the point he’s making: If Schiff really is all-in on trying to impeach Trump for “bribery,” there’s no way he’s going to get Senate Republicans to remove the president for a bribe that involved nothing more valuable on the Ukrainian end than an official White House meeting with Trump. But (a) Republicans aren’t going to remove Trump regardless, which is the point of Drucker’s piece, and (b) if Trump’s defense now has to resort to distinguishing between bribes that are impeachable and bribes that aren’t then Sondland’s testimony was waaaaay worse for Trump than I thought.
Fox's Andy McCarthy claims there's a "flaw" in Schiff bribery claims: "There's bribery, and then there's *bribery*."
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 20, 2019