On Tuesday, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland revised his original testimony to congressional impeachment investigators — and confirmed that the Trump administration withheld military aid to Ukraine as leverage to try and get the new Ukrainian government to do political favors for Trump. In short, Sondland confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo.
Sondland’s revised testimony is a bombshell, particularly because he is a close Trump ally and donor — in other words, someone clearly not out to get Trump for malicious or political reasons.
But one of Trump’s staunchest backers in Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), responded to the revelation by telling reporters he doesn’t have any interest in even reading up on it.
“I’ve written this whole process off … I think this is a bunch of BS,” Graham said, according to CBS, adding that he’s done reading testimony transcripts.
Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he won’t read any of the transcripts, and dismissed Sondland’s reversal. “I’ve written the whole process off … I think this is a bunch of B.S.” Per @alanhe
— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) November 5, 2019
On Wednesday, Graham went even further and suggested that Trump administration policy is too “incoherent” for Trump to engage in impeachable conduct.
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) November 6, 2019
Graham may have a point about Trump administration policy. But be that as it may, a comparison of Graham’s comments with what he’s been saying in recent weeks and months provides a stark illustration of how Trump’s defenders are moving the goalposts in a desperate effort to defend the president’s conduct.
In late September, for instance, Graham suggested that the Ukraine scandal was being overhyped by Democrats and the media because there was no evidence of an explicit quid pro quo involving foreign aid and the politically beneficial investigations Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to undertake.
“If you’re looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you’d be very disappointed,” Graham told reporters. “That does not exist.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “If you’re looking for a circumstance where the President of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you’d be very disappointed. That does not exist.” pic.twitter.com/io19f19725
— The Hill (@thehill) September 26, 2019
Those comments came a day before Graham confidently proclaimed on Twitter that there was “no quid pro quo.”
As to the whistleblower complaint — the transcript speaks for itself – no quid pro quo. The Democrats bought a pig in a poke.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) September 26, 2019
In that same Twitter thread, Graham dismissed the initial whistleblower complaint that set off this entire inquiry as merely containing “second-hand information to create a narrative damaging to the president.” But the complaint has since been corroborated in sworn testimony by a National Security Council official with direct knowledge of it.
Suffice it to say that Graham’s late September comments have not aged well. As my colleague Andrew Prokop put it, Sondland’s revised testimony indicates that “he did, in fact, tell various people — including a Ukrainian official — that President Donald Trump’s administration was linking hundreds of millions of dollars in withheld military aid for Ukraine to investigations Trump had asked the country to conduct” — in short, the exact quid pro quo scenario Graham claimed “does not exist.”
Graham has not only moved the goalposts about Trump’s conduct, he’s also moved them about the importance of transcripts altogether. In October, when Republicans were defending Trump by complaining about Democrats selectively leaking details from the impeachment testimonies, Graham called on Democrats to release full transcripts of the witness depositions and said that failing to do so would be an “abuse of power.”
If House D’s refuse to release full transcript of Volker testimony as requested by Congressman Jordan, it will be an abuse of power.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 9, 2019
But now that the transcripts have been released, Graham is suddenly uninterested in reading them.
Reporter: “Do you plan on reading these transcripts that were released?”⁰Graham: “No.”
— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) November 5, 2019
On Wednesday evening, Graham joined Sean Hannity’s Fox News show for an interview in which Graham appeared to be confused about some of the key players involved in the conspiracy theories he’s now peddling to deflect from the scandal surrounding Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Meanwhile, other allies of the president such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) are throwing up smokescreens by trying to shift attention from Trump’s conduct to the background of the whistleblower, even though his complaint has been broadly corroborated.
Graham’s comments on Wednesday indicate that Republican complaints about how Democrats handled the process of holding impeachment hearings or about the lack of evidence of a quid pro quo were never made in good faith. Instead of being willing to go where the facts lead, Graham has responded by moving the goalposts — and then, when they can’t be moved any further, by putting his hands over his eyes and pretending he can’t see reality for what it is.
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