U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland made a lot of news in his opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. There was a quid pro quo between the Americans and the Ukrainians. Everybody in the White House knew about it. And the Ukrainians knew too.
But there was one piece of Sondland’s testimony that didn’t get as much attention as it should have. Under questioning from Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-California) about the specific nature of the quid pro quo between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sondland said this:
“He had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”
To be clear, this means that in order for Zelensky to get the White House meeting he so coveted, he needed to simply announce that Ukraine was looking into Joe and Hunter Biden — despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing by either of them — as well as the whereabouts of the hacked Democratic National Committee server.
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Not conduct the investigation. Not prosecute anyone. Just announce it.
Sondland expanded on that idea when asked to elaborate by Democratic counsel Dan Goldman. Here’s that exchange:
GOLDMAN: Giuliani and President Trump didn’t actually care if they did them, right?
SONDLAND: I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or be completed. The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced. … President Trump presumably, communicated through Mr. Giuliani, wanted the Ukrainians on-record publicly that they were going to do those investigations.
If Trump’s true interest in raising the Democratic National Committee server conspiracy theory and the Bidens on the July 25 call with Zelensky was to root out corruption in Ukraine, wouldn’t you think it would be more important to press the Ukrainians on ensuring a free, fair and thorough investigation into any alleged wrongdoing?
If, on the other hand, the goal was simply to have a political card to play against the leading Democratic presidential nominee, then it would be less important whether the investigation actually happened and much more important that the president of Ukraine announced it in a very high-profile manner.
Which is what, according to Sondland, Trump was interested in. That view is corroborated by Sondland’s conversation — as relayed by State Department aide David Holmes —under oath!— with Trump on the day after the July 25 call. After that phone call, Sondland made clear to Holmes (and others who were at the table with him) that Trump didn’t care about Ukraine or corruption in the country more broadly. He cared about the Bidens and getting an investigation into them announced.
This isn’t rocket science. According to Sondland’s testimony, Trump doesn’t care about corruption. He wanted a political show to hurt Joe Biden.