When the Stories Don’t Get Straight

Somebody decided he’s not willing to do time for Trump. This just happened:

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told House impeachment investigators this week that he now remembers telling a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not receive U.S. military assistance until it committed to investigating the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a person with knowledge of Sondland’s testimony.

Sondland’s latest testimony represents an update to depositions he gave in October to the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. The new testimony was in a three-page declaration to the committees.

According to that sworn declaration, Sondland told Congress this week that his memory has been refreshed after reviewing the opening statements from Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former adviser to Trump on Russian and European affairs.

Yeah, I bet his memory was refreshed. That must be it.

Greg Sargent has a roundup of The Scandal Thus Far, with the catchy headline The scope of Trump’s corruption is mind-boggling. New developments show how. “The broad contours of the Ukraine scandal are well understood,” he writes. But two aspects of the scandal require more scrutiny.

The first is the degree to which this whole scheme is corrupting multiple government agencies and effectively placing them at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort.

The second is that two of the scheme’s goals — getting Ukraine to validate a conspiracy theory absolving Russia of 2016 sabotage, and to manufacture smears of one of Trump’s leading 2020 rivals — are really part of the same story. At the core of this narrative is Trump’s continuing reliance on foreign help in corrupting our democracy to his advantage, through two presidential elections, and the covering up of all of it.

Do read the whole thing.  Then read Josh Marshall:

A few two-bit, maybe three-bit hustlers have managed to take control of the President of the United States and have him not simply making decisions at their direction but actually operating outside any clear coordination with his own State Department. We need to see this as a proof of concept through which we see current US relations with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Think what more sophisticated operators are able to do with him.

This may sound like I’m trying to let Trump off too easily, portraying him as a soft touch or a patsy. Not really. I do get the sense here that Rudy’s telling him that Yovanovitch had to go was probably all he needed to hear. Hearing stories that she’d badmouthed him didn’t hurt either. I don’t get the sense that Trump knew or cared just why Parnas or Lutsenko wanted her out. Maybe he didn’t even know it was their ask. The point is it didn’t matter. Rudy was going to get Biden or spring Manafort or prove the Deep State was wrong about the Russians and that was all he needed to know.

There are more layers we haven’t uncovered yet, in particular why Trump is so obsequious to Russia. See also Michelle Goldberg, On Ukraine, Trump Is a Con Man, but He’s Also a Mark.

The heart of the Ukraine scandal, for which Trump will almost certainly be impeached, is simple. Trump used congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine, as well as the promise of a White House visit, to try to extort Ukraine’s president to announce investigations that would benefit Trump politically.

But there’s a broader story that’s still murky, because in this scandal Trump is both the perpetrator and the mark. Trump used the power of his office to try to force Ukraine to substantiate conspiracy theories. But the president was fed those conspiracy theories by people with their own agendas, who surely understood that he is insecure about Russia’s role in his election, and he will believe whatever serves his ego in the moment. The main reason Trump should be removed from office is that he has subverted American foreign policy for corrupt personal ends. But this scandal is the latest reminder of how easy sinister forces find it to pull his strings.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are reduced to complaining about the process or demanding that the original whistleblower be revealed. Because that’s all they’ve got.

ASK YOURSELF THIS QUESTION: Since the release of the first two transcripts from the impeachment inquiry Monday, have you seen a single stitch of information that helps President DONALD TRUMP? Have you found any information exculpatory for him? Can you name one single fact that’s changed the basic arc of this story?

IN FACT, as WaPo’s RACHAEL BADE and KAROUN DEMIRJIAN point out in today’s paper, “Republicans have used their time to complain that testimony has become public, going after their colleagues who were quoted in media reports commenting on witness appearances, and quizzing witnesses themselves on how their statements had been released.” WaPo story

See also Philip Bump, The desperate search for the Ukraine scandal’s Peter Strzok.