But the shift among Senate Republicans could complicate the message coming from Trump as he furiously fights the claim that he had withheld U.S. aid from Ukraine to pressure it to dig up dirt on a political rival, even as an increasing number of Republicans wonder how long they can continue to argue that no quid pro quo was at play in the matter.
The pivot was the main topic during a private Senate GOP lunch on Wednesday, according to multiple people familiar with the session who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the meeting. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) argued that there may have been a quid pro quo but said that the U.S. government often attaches conditions to foreign aid and that nothing was amiss in Trump’s doing so in the case of aid to Ukraine, these individuals said.
Inside the lunch, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who ran against Trump in 2016, said a quid pro quo is not illegal unless there is “corrupt intent” and echoed Kennedy’s argument that such conditions are a tool of foreign policy.
“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. … Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”