Learn more about the impeachment process from Crooked’s new podcast Rubicon: The Impeachment of Donald Trump, hosted by our Editor-in-Chief Brian Beutler.
The public phase of the Ukraine inquiry has ended, or at least entered a hiatus. And after seven hearings with 12 witnesses, we have learned much more in terms of both atmospheric details and new, incriminating facts, than we did at the outset.
But while much of the story is known, certainly enough to impeach the president, the hearings also underscored just how much of the story remains to be told.
Here are three key takeaways as the second week of impeachment hearings draws to a close.
1. Trump is SUPER guilty.
This has been obvious since at least September, when President Trump released the summary of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump conditioned military support for Ukraine’s war against Russia on investigations of his political enemies. But he’s even guilty by the standards Republicans set for themselves when the Ukraine scandal broke wide open.
Many Republicans set the bar for impeachment at “explicit” quid pro quo—arguing against reason that the rough transcript of the call left a great deal to the imagination. In October, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who’s perhaps Trump’s most slavering loyalist on Capitol Hill, said, “If you could show me that Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”
Well, on Wednesday, Trump’s Ukraine point man, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland confessed: “I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland said. “The answer is yes.”
Naturally, Republicans have tried to sweep their own standard down the memory hole, but by their own lights, Trump’s guilty.
2. Republican excuses bit the dust.
As the inquiry has progressed, congressional Republicans have veered from excuse to excuse—usually hypothetical, often contradictory—to absolve the president himself, if not all of his subordinates, of wrongdoing. By design, the hearings elicited testimony that debunked these excuses one by one.
Some of the most prominent of these included:
There was no quid pro quo!
Maybe Trump’s subordinates went rogue!
Even if you ignore the Trump-Zelensky transcript where Trump asks for an investigation of the Bidens in exchange for Javelin missiles, David Holmes—a State Department diplomat stationed in Kyiv—testified that he overheard Sondland and Trump discuss the progress the Ukrainians had made on the investigations on a cell phone call the day after Trump spoke with Zelensky.
Sondland told Trump that “President Zelenskyy ‘loves your ass,’” Holmes testified. “I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President
Zelenskyy will do ‘anything you ask him to.’” So no, nobody went rogue. As Sondland swore, “We followed the president’s orders.”
Maybe the Ukrainians didn’t realize they were being extorted.
Yes, they tried this. But multiple witnesses explained it simply wasn’t true. Most explosively, Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, uncovered and provided new hard evidence that the Ukrainians knew what was up way back in July. “My staff showed me two unclassified emails that they received from the State Department.” The first, she testified, read, “the Ukrainian embassy and the House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance.” The second read “that the Hill knows about the [frozen aid] situation to an extent, and so does the Ukrainian embassy.” To have put any stock in this excuse in the first place, you’d have to believe Ukrainian officials are extremely stupid, but as it turns out, they documented their awareness.
Well, it all worked out in the end, no harm no foul.
First, the high crime of bribery includes solicitation, so even if Ukraine never announced the investigations, and received the military aid they were entitled to by U.S. law, Trump is still guilty.
Second, Trump released the aid on September 11, after he learned that a whistleblower had filed a formal complaint about his conduct, and after three House committees had launched an investigation of the frozen aid. So he got caught.
We have not yet seen documentation spelling out why Trump agreed to release the aid; such documentation may not actually exist, except in the minds of guilty men like Trump and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. But it doesn’t have too.
3. There’s still enough left to learn.
The unresolved question of whether the administration has evidence that Trump released the funds because he had transitioned into coverup mode underscores how many threads Democrats have yet to pull.
- Sondland testified that Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Vice President Mike Pence, and even then-national security adviser John Bolton were read in on the scheme, and some of them actively supported it.
- There is a treasure trove of documents, at the State Department and elsewhere, establishing everyone’s level of involvement, but the administration has lawlessly refused to turn them over to Congress.
- We still don’t know how many other governments Trump has corrupted U.S. relations with, how many call summaries the White House has stored on a classified server to hide corruption, or what those summaries say. In private depositions and public hearings, witnesses declined to comment on any foreign-leader communications other than two Trump-Zelensky calls, in part because the scope of their subpoenas did not include matters outside of Ukraine.
This is all information the public deserves to know, even if it doesn’t make Trump any more impeachable than he already is, and even if it doesn’t change any Republican minds. The good news is some of this information may still seep out. A federal judge has ordered the State Department to produce some of the concealed Ukraine documents by tonight, pursuant to an outside FOIA request. On Monday, a federal judge will decide whether former White House Counsel Don McGahn must testify to the impeachment inquiry on unrelated matters, and that decision may pave the way for other witnesses to come forward. But it would be a shame if the House intelligence committee concluded its Ukraine investigation without fleshing out at least some of these critically important unknowns.