Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s bombshell testimony was a damning performance that undermined nearly every Republican talking point. He established that there was a clear “quid pro quo,” that Trump disliked and feared Ukraine, that “everyone was in the loop” on this, and that in listening to Rudy Giuliani’s instructions, he also “followed the president’s orders.”
It’s worth noting that Sondland is Trump’s ambassador to the European Union--a job he procured after donating a million bucks to Trump’s inaugural committee. This is all to say that he’s no leftie, no “deep state” Obama holdover, no “Never Trumper” with an ulterior motive to undermine this presidency.
The perception was that Sondland was a Trump loyalist. Trump described him as “a really good man and great American.” But if Republicans were counting on him to be the witness who would save the president, he sure didn’t do that.
The fact that he now goes down in history as, perhaps, the key witness of this impeachment inquiry is nothing short of a stunning development.
“To a certain degree, [Sondland] took out the bus and ran over President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney,” Fox News’ Chris Wallace said on Wednesday of Sondland’s blockbuster testimony. “He implicates all of them.”
Perhaps it’s worth clearly stating that THIS WAS A BIG MOMENT!!!! And it wouldn’t have happened if Democrats had listened to the conventional wisdom that suggested impeachment was (at best) a fool’s errand, and (more likely) a huge mistake that would backfire.
For months now, new developments on the impeachment front--even startling ones--have been dismissed by cynical pundits in the chattering classes who remind us the Senate will never remove the president--as if that’s the only reason to pursue this inquiry.
Had Democrats embraced this defeatist, nihilistic worldview, the chain of events that led to Wednesday’s damning testimony from Sondland would never have gotten started. The impeachment baby would have been strangled in the crib. Democrats would have made the practical political calculation that removal was not within the realm of possibility, and thus, a waste of time.
Actually, though, there is a chance that 20 Republicans will vote to remove Trump. I was one of the first commentators to say this—and now even Ken Starr is suggesting it’s possible. This is because the world is dynamic and unpredictable. Indeed, Donald Trump’s election should have taught us not to be so smug and confident in our own ability to predict outcomes.
To quote Ronald Reagan: “I don't believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.”
On the heels of Sondland’s testimony, I’m finally starting to hear from friends who are bullish on removal. “Don't tell me you don't think Cocaine Mitch isn't sitting in his office, feet on the desk, slowly and methodically sharpening the shiv that he knows one day he'll get to use on the buffoon who has humiliated him and his party for these past three years,” one smart conservative friend texts me.
The key to gaining this sort of momentum, of course, is to simply get started. Sometimes, what starts out as an investigation into an Arkansas land deal can end up with DNA on a blue dress and impeachment. More recently, the Benghazi hearing was responsible for uncovering Clinton’s use of a private email server--a revelation that arguably swung the 2016 election. That’s right: No Benghazi hearing, and you likely have a President Hillary Clinton.
The variables involved in something of this magnitude are incalculable.
Here’s one thought experiment to consider: If Roger Stone hadn’t been convicted last week, would Sondland have been so forthcoming in his testimony this week? No political observer could have predicted the timing--nor could anyone definitively say whether it even mattered. Another scenario: What if Trump had immediately announced a pardon of Roger Stone? How might that have influenced Sondland’s testimony? Again, we have no way of knowing.
Is it possible that Sondland’s testimony will start its own chain reaction, leading to more unpredictable or weird reactions or overreactions? Absolutely!
A theory: Sondland’s testimony dramatically increases the likelihood that, in order to shield Trump and maintain plausible deniability, Republicans will cast Rudy Giulianit as the fall guy.
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” Sondland testified. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”
The last defense of Trump might be suggesting that Rudy went rogue.
But what happens if Republicans decide to go that route? Giuliani recently joked that he has very good “insurance” in case Trump tries to throw him under the bus. I’m not predicting that Giuliani will flip on Trump--or that he actually has evidence that would implicate Trump--but this is, at least, within the realm of possibility.
Of course, this possibility would not have had the chance of manifesting if Democrats had simply accepted the “inevitable” outcome of a quixotic impeachment bid. We would never have heard from witnesses like Marie Yovonavitch, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, or Gordon Sondland. And Congressional Republicans might never have been put on the spot--forced to choose between Trump or their lying eyes.
What happened today was history. This is John Dean. This is huge. And it might just be the beginning. But none of this would have occurred if Democrats listened to conventional wisdom.